This week, Chris and I are sharing about our experience with a marriage counselor over the past two months. While we were in counseling, we decided together not to share anything with anyone about it. Few people in our real lives even knew. But I continued to write about the experience as it was happening, both with the intention of sharing it later once the dust had settled and of helping myself work through it on my own. This is the post that I wrote after our first session with the counselor. Click here for the Phase One post on anger.
Chris and I had our first counseling session this past week. I didn’t hate it. In fact, I kind of liked it.
I was so nervous about going. I had this terrible fear that something irreparable was going to be said and we would walk away from counseling in worse shape than when we went into it. But that didn’t happen. In fact, our counselor spent most of the time telling us what a great job we were doing holding our family and ourselves together, given the circumstances of our lives this year.
I was surprised how much of our discussion was about our work life. When she asked each of us why we thought we had come to counseling, I said that we had so much change going on, specifically learning to balance this new company and our roles as co-workers, along with being spouses. I said that I didn’t think we had taken the time to really consider or prepare for how that new relationship would impact our married relationship. Chris agreed, plus he added that he also had typical day-to-day stress at his day job and that also created tension in our marriage, which is definitely true.
We talked for a while about our work lives, what our stresses were, what our frustrations were, and how those seeped into our family and home life. One thing that I learned about Chris was how much he carries with his day job. Several months ago, I became frustrated with hearing him complain about work and I finally gave him an ultimatum: Either get a new job or stop complaining. But I was done listening about his work life.
Yeah… so… THAT isn’t healthy or productive or supportive or kind or helpful. No one told me that directly, of course. In fact, our counselor was excellent at staying neutral and nonjudgmental. (Which at first annoyed me because I came prepared with a list of grievances that I fully expected her to take my side on, but turns out that that isn’t how marriage counseling works… womp, womp) But being given the time and space to simply sit and listen to Chris talk about the weight he is carrying of basically two full time jobs made me hang my head in shame at how isolated I have forced him to become. In telling him I didn’t want to hear about it anymore, I had basically shut off a huge portion of his day-to-day life from our relationship and left him to carry that burden all alone.
But we also talked about the importance of balance. That it can’t ALL be work and stress. There has to be a balance. But before that balance can be reached, each of us has to feel as though they have safe place to come home to and feel 100% supported. I think that has been a huge missing piece for us over the past several months. Chris made a great point during our session when he said to the counselor that when you have been together for as long as Chris and I have (almost 20 years!), it is very easy to have entire conversations without saying a single word. We can communicate through looks and body language, or even simply by knowing what the other is thinking. It comes so naturally to communicate that easily that we can become lazy in our connection to each other.
We agreed that this is probably what has happened with us. In the rush and chaos of the past year, and especially in the last few months, we have gone into fight or flight mode and both of us have just put our heads down and barreled through. But living in a state of non-essential communication for so long as put both of us out of practice and, quite frankly, has worn us down. We are just tired and that includes being too tired to care for our marriage.
As scary as than sounds to me, it was actually a much better diagnosis than I was fearing. At least we agreed that we loved each other. At least we agreed that our marriage has a firm foundation of years of positive, honest, loving communication. At least we agreed that we aren’t too far off base right now, we just seem to have lost our way back to center.
She gave us each a homework assignment for the next two weeks until our next session. Each of us has a behavior we have to work on changing. I’m going to keep those private for the sake and sanctity of our marriage, but they were both tactile, do-able changes that we can make. Nothing too lofty or abstract. Just real, practical solutions for two hurtful behaviors that were making it hard for us to move ahead as a couple. In two weeks, we will meet again to evaluate those two changes and to see what we can do to strengthen our marriage even more.
It’s been a week since our session and there is a change between Chris and I. I think the act of simply stating that our marriage is a priority for both of us was huge. Both of us said we feel like a huge weight has been lifted since counseling. And that is solid improvement because we each felt so much weight on us. I will say that I don’t feel any closer to Chris yet. We are certainly kinder to each other and are listening better, but I don’t feel like we are connecting any better. I’m sure that will come in the next few weeks as we make more progress. The biggest difference is that we are both focused on trying to make changes and that is moving us in the right direction.
So, we went to marriage counseling and I didn’t die or anything. No one threw tomatoes at me or told me what a horrible person I am. No one stormed out. No one judged. No one placed blame. “It’s not about blame,” our counselor advised. “It’s about moving past feeling like you need to blame.” And we’re getting there. Little by little.
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