Howie and I started marriage counseling on Monday (President’s Day)- the only time we could actually make the meeting, be together, and get a sitter. Thank you Erin. You are a goddess. Dr. JC would call Howie to try to schedule something with him, but then Howie wouldn’t call back and then he would call me and it was a cycle. Dr. JC got the impression that this wasn’t a priority and we probably wouldn’t be a good fit. But I fought and fought for this because my own anxieties and perceptions were killing me and I felt like we needed some sort of intervention from someone on the outside. My dad really is my best friend and I felt like I had no one to talk to anymore about marital issues, and let’s be honest, Dad’s will always take their daughter’s side. Howie isn’t a bad person, but we argue, bicker, and scream in front of the kids. I work with trauma kids and I can’t handle thinking that this might be causing them more stress. We aren’t terrible, but we can get vicious and I felt like it was time to get some strategies to help us manage marriage and parenthood.
Dr. JC is a tough cookie and I knew it the minute I met him. He came highly recommended and I was told him and Howie were a lot alike, which initially terrified me, but also excited me because Howie is skeptical of this kind of thing. The guy is turning 75 in a few months, but he is as witty as ever. Anyways, we walk in and sign all the necessary paperwork and I was so nervous. Would he judge me? What do I say? Am I supposed to talk the most since I am the one who initiated this? Is he going to tell me to suck it up? Will he yell? Will he take sides? He explained that he has a certain protocol where he talks to both of us, then the wife alone and the husband alone. Then he brings us back together, brainstorms strategies, gives us homework and sends us on our merry way. Howie explained that we have already gone to 2 other licensed clinical social workers and we didn’t love them. Great start. DR. JC explained why he was different and said he wanted to cut to the chase. At first, I was completely lost because everything he was saying felt way over my head because it seemed far-fetched and too philosophical but of course Howie got it right away. He broke protocol and said he knew exactly what our issue was and didn’t need us to go in separate rooms. To be fair, we also told him that we aren’t separated and don’t want divorce. Automatically, we are one of the easier couples.
He wanted us to look around the room and imagine an alien from outer space who has never visited Earth to explain what they saw- no rooms, or people, or things, or language existed. Only 3 things existed: form, distance, and time. Those 3 things are concrete. The other things we thought they could see were not concrete. Then he drew pictures of 2 circles labeled: Tracy MMM and Howie MMM. MMM stands for meaning making machine. That’s what humans are. Yes, this shit sounds crazy at first, but bear with me. A few times I was staring out the window at the cars wondering what the hell was going on. I can think at a higher order level, but I need to be prepared. Howie loves this shit. Dr. JC talked about how humans, by nature, have a story or a narrative if you will. Their experiences create their story which creates their reality, perception and interpretation. And when couples date, they can share a reality to a degree, but when there are stressors like children and finances, the realities can be misperceived and misinterpreted. Does that make sense? Eh, still not so much, but what I got from this is that every ONE person has their own story. We are ONE. Essentially, we are born alone and we die alone. No two people have the same story or narrative of their life. If someone has one opinion and the other has a different opinion, it can be easy to fight. Well, you don’t understand me. Okay, but you don’t understand me either. Then the fights escalate and people shut down, scream, threaten divorce, bicker, compete, etc. Guilty. I am so guilty of almost of all these. Just like in a previous post, I posted about how Howie and I are hardly on the same team. I get so pissed at him for small things or because I worked all day long and don’t feel well, yet I’m home chasing the kids, making dinner, cleaning, giving baths and I just want to pee alone. So he sees it as me saying, “F you, you do nothing all day, you aren’t as important as me so drop what you are doing and help me now.” But I actually just want him to say, “Wow you seem so busy, let me make dinner.” Guys aren’t wired that way. Or he is anxiously pacing the kitchen or sitting at his old beat up lap top with headphones on or writing in his journal and looks stressed…he already hardly smiles. I ask if he’s okay and the world is ending. I can’t ask him if he’s okay ever.
Dr. JC went on talking about how 2 people have 2 perceptions and that’s okay. You have to be able to communicate and try to understand the other person’s point of view. We didn’t get into the nitty-gritty yet, but for now he wanted to explain the logic of love. How LOVE itself doesn’t get you through anything. It’s being open to trying to understand the other persons perspective. Ironically, this is what I do at my job as a special education teacher. Myself and the school psychologist will run groups on perspective taking.
The last thing Dr. JC said to us was, “Believe me when I tell you this. My wife pisses me off too.” Then proceeded to tell us how his wife runs a daycare for teachers and every time he came home he would ask her to keep the garage clean so he could park in there. She would agree every time, but every night he pulled into the garage it was a disaster with kids stuff. He said he would get so mad and steamed up, but always tried to remember the shirt trick. The shirt trick means that his wife would iron his shirts for work everyday for years and one day it just clicked. Instead of getting pissed off and starting a fight, he remembered all the things she was good at. Way easier said than done and it took him a long time to do this, but it worked after years. It became a habit and every time something made him upset, he always thought about her ironing his shirt everyday for work.
What are some things your significant other is good at?
Here is my list for Howie:
He is good at budgeting and financial planning, he is a great father, he wants us to be financially stable and tries SO hard for us to be, he sets goals and smashed them, he wants the best for us, he takes care of us and makes us feel safe, LOVES us unconditionally, great at his jobs, is a real man/tradesman, fixes everything, good with his hands, is creative, is organized, is always trying to better himself, receives constructive criticism well, is extremely determined (sometimes overboard), is optimistic, is very passionate about everything he does, will sometimes leave me little notes, although I haven’t really deserved many lately, is a leader, does chores around the house…
I’ll be honest, this list took me about 10 minutes, but it’s all true. And also, I was kind of weirded out at very first when he started talking about aliens, but really he was awesome. We will meet with Dr. JC again in March after he celebrates his 75th birthday on some island. But we are also very excited to see where this adventure takes us. I love his approach instead of having us hash out fights and then facilitating our angry conversations. Instead, he dove right in and defined our roles as a couple as well as explaining what love really is and why so many couples are divorcing or splitting up.