On the couch…

Posted on October 21, 2008. Filed under: reality | Tags: |

Barcelona couch via DWR

I’m admitting it here publicly: J and I go to couples counseling on a regular basis.

I’m also admitting here, publicly, that I didn’t want to.  No, thanks.  We’re not even married, thankyouverymuch.  What kind of a bad sign is it that we’re ALREADY having to go to a counselor?  Uh, uh.  (The real reason, of course, was that I was embarassed and sure that I would get scolded.)

But, in the end, off we went, because the only thing I dreaded more than going to a counselor together was the thought of my life without him.  If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

I’ll start by telling you what couples counseling isn’t.  It’s not a sign of failure, a bad omen, anything to be embarrassed about, or a miserable experience.  It’s not something I’m ashamed to admit we need.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t love each other or that we aren’t capable of being happy — you know, all that bubbles and rainbows stuff that everyone wants.  It doesn’t mean that I’m broken or wrong or that he’s broken or wrong.

What it does mean is that we are mature adults (well, mostly!) who understand that being happily married is a skill as much as it is an intent.  It means that we acknowledge that we have things to work on and that we are committing to doing that work, even when it’s uncomfortable.  It means that we want the best and most supportive relationship for each other and ourselves.

J gets the extra credit for this one, because we go to the same counselor that I’d been seeing on my own.  I’m not sure that I could have handled it if the situation was reversed (J, if you’re reading this, you got extra credit!).  I’d gone to see the counselor when I first started dating J because I realized that I had to deal with my history, and quick, given the feeling that this relationship was destined for great things.

“Get to the details, woman.  Do you get scolded?  Is your counselor like a referee?”  That’s what I’d be asking.  “How do you prepare?  What can I expect?”

Fred (because our counselor reminds me of Mr. Rogers) starts out every session by asking, “So how are things?”  Sometimes, we’re just waiting for the last word in that sentence so that we can get started.  Other times, things are good (or realllly frustrating) and it takes us a while to get to the point.  We basically talk about what’s been going on and Mr. F interjects with questions and suggestions as necessary.   He has told one of us that the other is right, but that’s not typical.  He’s asked one of us to be quiet while he talks with the other one. (Guess who gets asked to be quiet most often?  Whaaat?  I’m very verbal!  Okay, okay, I’m a big mouth.)  He’s given us things to think about, explained what the other is saying in words we both understand, and even reminds us that we’re okay, that fighting is normal, that our world doesn’t have to fall apart if we don’t want it to.

J and I drive there together and on the way we sometimes talk about what we need to talk about.  Other times, we know what we need to talk about (oh, we KNOW).  We have gone as often as once a week and have recently cut back to once a month — and I’m fine with either.  I don’t feel like we shouldn’t need this, anymore.

Why does it work?  Why can’t we work these things out on our own?  *Shrug*  Because we are different people with different histories and perspectives and assumptions and it takes an objective third party to help us communicate.  It also works because for one solid hour, we have no distractions, nothing to divert us from the task at hand, which is dealing with our relationship.

My advice to my former self would be this: Don’t be afraid to try.  You’re not a failure at relationships, you’re just human.  You know that you have technical issues (like saying words that you each understand and explaining yourselves well, not to mention knowing how to support each other in the ways that make you feel supported) not structural issues (like trust or cheating or an unwillingness to commit). These are skills, and you learn skills by working with a teacher, an expert, a guide.  When you got a puppy, you enrolled in classes with a trainer to learn how to be a good owner, right?  Throw yourself into this like you would a class and you’ll be fine.  Remember that if the other person is willing to try something uncomfortable for the sake of your relationship, he’s a keeper.  Now, go work on keeping him.  Love.

P.S. Holly Robinson and Rodney Peete see a counselor regularly (I heard it on their radio show).  I think I read that SJP and Matthew Broderick and Brangelina go as well.  Think of it like cleaning your house.  You can do it defensively when things get really stinky, or you can just pick up the small messes as you go.

Your turn.  How do you feel about couples counseling?  Have you gone?  What advice or tips would you offer someone (like my former self) who a little chicken and looking for information?

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    About

    I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and divorce papers) to prove it. Here I am again, pledging my life to my (new) love with eyes wide open (and heart racing) knowing full well how emotionally traumatic this can end… and doing it anyway.

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