Marriage Counselor Number 6
Me: You’re our sixth marriage counselor.
Therapist: Lucky number 6. I notice you are sitting far away from each other.
It’s amazing that I can be with someone for 20 years, start a family together, share a bed every night, and yet be afraid to sit next to her.
Lauren: It’s just really hard these days. I don’t think we like each other very much.
Me: Isn’t it Lucky Number 7, not Number 6?
Therapist (ignoring me): Brett, do you agree with Lauren’s assessment?
Me: There’s definitely something very wrong with us.
Therapist: Are you referring to sex or is it more than that?
Neither of us look how we looked when we met, me especially. I’ve lost a lot of my hair. I have huge cholesterol deposits under my eyes. I wouldn’t be attracted to me.
Lauren: I can’t remember the last time we even touched each other.
At home, it’s like we’re playing a game. We’re each holding out for the other person to cave and show some affection. You start to feel uncomfortable kissing or hugging the one person in the world who you contractually agreed to be affectionate with.
Lauren: I wish Brett would get in better shape. I want to diet and exercise together, but it lasts like two days and then we stop doing it.
Therapist: Are there other reasons you’re struggling to stay connected?
Lauren: If he helped out more around the house, if he contributed more financially, those are turn-ons. He’s just lazy.
Me: How many years did I support both of us when you were in school and your residency?
Lauren: That was 15 years ago.
Me: And I’m not lazy. Anything I do that you didn’t see, basically didn’t happen. You went away last week. I picked the kids up from school, did their homework with them, drove Liv to soccer, fed them, got them to bed. Then you come home and yell at me that the house is a mess.
Lauren: Max had a nosebleed on our bed Friday night. I came home Sunday and you hadn’t changed the sheet and you told me you slept on the other side of the bed. Who sleeps in a bed with blood in it for two days?
Me: I was busy doing 100 other things with the kids while you were eating oatmeal raison cookies in Tahoe. I’m sorry if I was too tired at night to change the sheets.
Therapist: When you’re home together at night, after the kids go to bed, what do you do?
Me: Lauren usually passes out before the kids go to bed.
Lauren: I see 40 patients a day. I’m tired.
Me: That’s fine, but don’t get mad at me for us not communicating, when there is literally no time to communicate.
Lauren: Even when I stay up, you go downstairs and watch sports and eat yourself to death.
It’s not just Lauren. I tend to alienate myself from everyone. Once a week my mother is mad at me for not calling enough. I never talk to my friends except over text. I think it’s all part of my mental health issues. I feel best when I don’t have pressure to deal with people.
Me: Why is everything my fault?
Lauren: My parents think we should just end it at this point.
Me: You had to throw that in there.
Therapist: How does it make you feel when you hear that from Lauren about her parents?
Me: Their opinion couldn’t mean less to me.
Therapist: Why do they think that Lauren?
Lauren: They want me to be happy. We should be laughing. We’re too young for it to be this difficult.
Me: You think each of us seeing our children half the week is going to be easy?
When you have kids, you put up with a lot of shit you wouldn’t otherwise. I hear about people staying together, even sleeping separately and then when the last kid is off to college, they end things. That sounds miserable.
Me: Lauren’s also always comparing me to her father. She thinks he was like Super Dad.
Therapist: Is that true Lauren?
Lauren: My Dad’s amazing. Anything my Mom needs him to do, he does. He does a million things around the house. They’re just a team the two of them.
Me: Your father hasn’t worked in 10 years and has no children living at home. What else is there for him to do besides help out?
Lauren: He was that way even when I was growing up.
Me (to therapist): When I do the dishes, I still leave them out to air dry because that way Lauren can see I cleaned dishes. It’s ridiculous but I feel like I always have to prove I’m doing enough.
The irony is Lauren’s father and I aren’t all that different. He’s made a ton of mistakes in his life. He’s not exactly Mr. Olympia. But because Lauren sees him carrying laundry up the stairs, he’s the greatest guy ever. She’s always put him on this pedestal which just isn’t accurate. I learned a long time ago in therapy that my parents are flawed. It’s part of becoming an adult. Lauren was absent that day.
Therapist: How are things socially?
Me: Well, there we are on the same page. We both have FOBI.
Lauren: “Fear of being included”. When we’re out, we look at each other and silently count in our heads how long before we can go home.
The therapist takes a deep breath. Sense of humor apparently isn’t her thing. Lauren and I look at each other, silently considering how we feel about her.
Therapist: Do you think the kids know you’re having problems?
Lauren: They have to pick up on some stuff. We’re not happy. They have to see that.
Therapist: Do you fight in front of them?
Me: No, but our daughter sees me go downstairs to sleep sometimes.
Lauren: Brett just tells her he has a cold.
Therapist: I think the first suggestion I would have for the two of you, is to pick a time each night after the kids go to bed and spend 30 minutes together.
I look Lauren in the eye. She’s been on the verge of tears the whole session. My emotions are a bit trickier as I’m on medicine which dulls things.
I take her hand.
Me: We’ve been through so much. We’ll get through this.
These are just words. Frankly, I don’t know where we go from here. Couples therapy has done nothing for us in the past. But we refuse to give up for some reason. A lot of it is how foreign the concept of divorce is to us. Both of our parents are still together. What does divorce even look like? Would we really only see the kids half the week each? How would we even tell the kids we’re separating? It would devastate them. They’re at the worst possible ages, 9 and 7. Younger they wouldn’t remember it. Older they’d be independent. Now would be brutal.
Yet we can’t go on like this forever. It’s not healthy. It’s not okay. Eleven more years before they turn 18 is too long to not have love in our lives.
And so we continue on the edge, hoping for a breakthrough that will make us feel how we used to feel about each other.
Until then, we’ll spend the 30 minutes together each night and assuredly talk about one thing: We don’t like this marriage counselor. Hopefully, Lucky number 7 is a real thing.