Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | December 11, 2009

Therapy, Therapists, Therapism — part 1

One piece of advice that I have received frequently is the notion of finding a therapist to help with the recovery process. I have even offered this advice, myself, to a fellow blogger who is obviously having a rough time right now. Truth be told, I am currently seeing a therapist (albeit only about once a month, my company’s finances being strapped as they are). I must say, though, that I have mixed feelings and thoughts about the whole therapy enterprise. I’d like to know *your* opinion, gentle reader.

My first experience with therapy was after the Big Break-up with Penny in the winter of 1996-97. (I was mistaken in my earlier post about Thanksgiving 1995… it was Thanksgiving 1996 that led to our break-up. More on that in another post.) The more I tried to be a good boyfriend, the more Penny pulled away, until I became a total wreck while she went off to date my housemate.

While all three of us were working at the same office.

There was nowhere I could go to escape them, and I was a mess. A crying, sobbing, nervous, pathetic mess. I was shedding pounds faster than Paris Hilton sheds boyfriends. I had good friends who listened, took me places, and tried to comfort me, but I was still just a disaster. So, taking their advice, I sought out a counselor.

This woman practiced non-directive therapy. In other words, it was all about me talking, and her not really doing anything. She suggested at one point that I ask if Penny would come to a session, and Penny did (probably just to placate me), but the thing is… Penny had already moved on. I had not. And whatever tools this counselor had, they didn’t seem to do anything for my situation. I was being pathetic, and non-directive therapy doesn’t seem to have any real leverage to help you become less pathetic. I was already talking to my friends; talking wasn’t the issue.

So, that little experiment ended. Pathos 1, Therapy 0.

My second experience with therapy began in the fall of 2008. Over the course of the intervening twelve years or so Penny and I did get back together (yes, I still owe you that story), moved across the country, bought a townhouse, got married, had kids, bought a bigger house, started a business, gave up on that business, took over another business . . . and at some point during her most recent pregnancy, I think we both just had had enough. For me, it wasn’t merely that we were sexless, but the lack of any affection had finally broken some part of me. Friends started to comment on it; how I seemed to have lost my spark. Penny was not a happy camper, herself.

I finally spoke with a female friend about this, who revealed that she and her husband had had a similar problem in their own relationship (only it was the husband who withheld sex and affection). My friend said they saw a counselor, that they both very much wanted to make it better, and they did the homework assignments and managed to pull their love life together. They were now as happy as could be (with three kids of their own).

I finally told Penny that I was going to talk to a therapist, and she could join me or not as she saw fit. She decided to give it a try. I did a Google search for “How to find a therapist,” located an excellent article on the subject at psychologytoday.com, and also found that website had a comprehensive resource for finding a therapist in your local area whom you could search by specialty. I made a short list of three therapists, and gave the list to Penny. She chose one on the basis of the fact that the counselor also listed children and children of divorce as areas of expertise. “Just in case….” So we signed up.

My primary goal with the first therapist all those years ago was to find a way not to be a wreck.

My primary goal with this new therapist was to save our marriage without sacrificing myself. I suppose I should have realized that wasn’t Penny’s primary goal.

We arranged a sitter for the two older kids, but because our baby was so young, the baby came with us to the joint sessions. Luckily for us, the baby typically napped during these sessions. We had single sessions and joint sessions. This counselor, truth be told, did seem to have a lot more on the ball than that first therapist from all those years ago. But she also seemed to have a lot of woo going on, too, and I am not particularly comfortable with woo.

After a joint session and then one private session each, we had another joint session where the dreaded genie was let out of the bottle. I made some comment about fear, and the counselor asked me what I was afraid of. I was afraid that if we continued along the path we were on, it could only lead to… but I didn’t want to say the word. I’d never said the word in front of Penny, because I knew that once that word was out there, it couldn’t go back.

“What are you afraid of?”

I hesitated before finally saying it. “Divorce.”

There. I said it. The word was out. And just as I feared, that became the focus of the rest of the session. I don’t remember if it was more Penny or the therapist, but they both seemed to seize upon it and ran with that idea. Our homework assignment was to talk about what a divorce would look like.

On the way home from that session, we stopped the car on a side street and talked. Penny had obviously been fantasizing about divorce, but I don’t think had put realistic thought into it. We talked about what a divorce would look like (and she seemed to think it was inevitable), and her ideas ran along these lines:

Well, of course she should be the primary custodian for the kids, but they still needed me in their lives, that was a given, but during the school weeks they should stay with her, oh but there were things she wanted to do with them during the weekends, so the summers, but well, the summers there were other things she wanted to do with them, but, well, oh, and of course it would probably be best for the kids to stay in our house, so that meant she should probably stay in the house, but since the business hadn’t taken off yet and she didn’t have a job on the side (I did) we should probably continue to co-own the house until she could figure out how to take over the house payments or until the business took off, which would allay all of our financial burdens, and we should also continue to have a joint bank account for the kids expenses, and…

I had not thought about it. I’d gone to great lengths to not think about it. Readers, you may well ask why I was so averse to divorce for so long, especially given that the problems in our marriage extended back to before we even got married. When I go into why and how we got back together all those years ago, it might become a little more clear, but I’m not so sure I understand it fully, myself. What I do know is that, after Child #1 was born, I was afraid of being shut out of my kid(s) life (lives). And nothing Penny was saying allayed any of those fears.

I said something to the effect of:

I don’t care who gets the house. It’s not that important to me. But whoever gets the house, gets the debt that goes with it. The idea of divorce is to divorce, not to keep everything together as if we were married, except I go live in an apartment somewhere. And I am not comfortable with the idea that my role as father is to just be a baby sitter when you need a night off.

That week, I spoke with a few lawyers. What I learned was this: no matter our best of intentions or desires, in the case of a divorce, even an amicable one, we would certainly lose the house. We might even go bankrupt. (Keep in mind, the bottom had not yet fallen out of the market, and our business was growing at the time, not shrinking.)

I mentioned that at the next counseling session. All of a sudden, divorce was off the table. Penny, it seems, really wanted to keep the house.

We continued to meet with the counselor for several months. She gave us homework exercises, and we did them. But Penny still wasn’t dedicated to keeping the marriage going. At one point, the counselor asked if things were getting better as a result of the homework we were doing. I thought that they were, but Penny said, no, she didn’t feel any differently at all. This brought us back to square one, and the topic of divorce came up again.

At that point, I pulled the plug. I knew even at the time that divorce was increasingly probable, but I didn’t want to give up just yet. I needed to know that we — or at least, I — had tried everything reasonable to fix this. It seemed to me that either this therapist had already recognized that divorce was inevitable and decided we should just get on with it, or that she didn’t have a big enough collection of tools to try to fix it. (Who knows? Maybe she thought that by bringing it up, it would help us to redouble our efforts. Alas, Penny wasn’t inclined to try harder, and I was tired of banging my head against the proverbial brick wall.)

So after talking it over with Penny, I told the counselor that we were going to discontinue our sessions with her. A couple of months later, we started to see a new couples counselor. More on that later.

In the meantime, though, the word “divorce” was out there. It had previously been unthinkable to me. But now that we had been told to think about it, I did think about it. It became thinkable. I went to this counselor with the intention of trying to save our marriage. But even though that’s not how things worked out, this may have been how I started down the path to saving myself.

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Responses

  1. Umm… well, I use a blog. I highly recommend you do the same 🙂 I’ve never been to therapy but… well, you’ve read at least one entry of mine so you must know that I should seek professional help.

    Meanwhile, feel free to hate me for saying this but I think that Penny loves the house more than she loves you and is using your finances to keep her roof over her head, despite the fact that it is unhealthy and unfair to you. Doesn’t seem right to me. If she’s going to behave as though she lives in the 1950s, she should at least be fulfilling *all* of her wifely duties. Ahem.

  2. I’m sorry your experiences with therapy have been iffy. Mine has been brilliant, but of course I’m in the place you were in when you went for your first and it gets a lot more complicated trying to heal (or unravel) a marriage instead of just dealing with one person’s feelings of loss. My psychologist was pretty non-directive, but she wouldn’t have dreamt of having Hunky there (not that that was an option). It was all about me. It’s helped me so much – not just with this breakup, but with how I feel about myself and my life. I wish everyone could have the same, but unfortunately it’s not a magic cure. I’m still glad you’re seeing someone now, but I think you should continue to see them on your own.

  3. Saving yourself isn’t the act of selfishness that I suspect you fear it is. Saving yourself means that you are putting yourself in the frame of mind to have the strength to handle whatever comes your way. I’ve had to learn to save myself over the last few months. And the results have been…amazing. I’ve never been better, stronger, happier, more well-adjusted. It came from being on my own, from facing my fears and discovering that it wasn’t so bad. (Most of the time…it’s pretty great.)

    And you have all of us, your own personal cheering section, ready to be there for you. Just open up and let us in.

  4. Itnever,

    Your first break up with Penny was never fully resolved. Did you get back on your terms or hers? (ideally it should have been a compromise respecting each other boundaries). Once back together your forgiveness should have been complete! This has not happened, based on your writing, and instead you have now accumulated years of resentment. As your wife she will “feel” this. It is very real.

    The other issue you bring up the one when you perceived she has settled. If this is the case over time, and with your resentment you two have spent more time distancing from each other than deepening your bond.

    There is a chance you two, driven by your inner turmoil in your marriage, are seeking to related to each other the way you each related to the parent you had the most issues when growing up. One needs to identify and resolve those issues before having a successful relationship with a significant other. Most of us have this issues but need to get over them when adults, instead we carry this wound with us, and it is the person we love the most that would cause us to react in such way.

    Therapy does work and it can work, but the most basic assumption when a therapist sees you is that you know yourself right? Well if you are going in for marriage, break up, or emotional related issues chances are that your system is in shock.

    it is recommended you spent a great of introspection in understanding yourself, each other, and then the relationship / marriage before attempting to improve it. Most of us do not have the patience to do this.

    You seem very aware of you own condition, but you do lack some unbiased logic input into your own reasoning. One ought to be careful of not to become self absorved, nor fall into the trap of group thinking. What I mean is to avoid groups that are too sympathetic to your conditions, they will only affirm your thinking even if flawed. What you need, now specially, is objectivity and cold rigorous logic (once you understand yourself, your therapist can be useful in this role). You are in touch with your sensitive side and that is a big plus, most of us men struggle with this side. it is a key ingredient when enduring hard times in any relationship. keep developing.

    Likewise, Penny is very capable of logic reasoning and objectivity. She married you and decided to have three kids with you. it is been my experience that women do not do this haphazardly. There are deep psychological and chemical factors that go into choosing a mate, and women are very good at it. trust her. Never forget, She chose you.

    Last, you have only two choices it seems divorce or stay in the relationship.

    I urge you two re evaluate your thinking. There is really only one choice. You work hard and try to save the marriage, but you have to believe you can.

    If you do and fail, you will be well on your way to recovery and moving on. if you succeeded your wife and kids will be glad you became the man they expect you to be.

    Penny married you and expects you to be the rock. I urge you to re read your writing, it does not seem you have been for a while.

    I am not blaming you. I am not saying you are a bad man. it could very well be that Penny IS the issue. What I am trying to say is that as the man, and leader in your family it is your job and responsibility to find out. If you do you will to start to feel better, and feel validated when you divorce.

    Last, there is a method to this madness. This are tough economic times here in the US and many family like yours are struggling. You are not alone, but rest assured this times will pass.

    Stay strong.

  5. I think Santaslil has said it all. I hope you will take that to heart.

  6. Therapy can work in some instances. That said, I’ve NEVER known couples counseling to work. I don’t care about the professionalism of the counselor. The fact is, they take sides. They bond better with one party. They make and pass judgments. Precious few actually put together a life plan and expect the people to put it into motion. Generally there is one person in the couple who resonates more with the counselor. Needless to say, you should have found a man.

    That said both parties need to agree for more than “the judge will want to see that we tried” or “I’m working to keep the house.” (No wonder you love Ben and Jerry’s!) You have married someone who appears to be so passive-aggressive and resistant to putting in any kind of real effort into a long-term relationship that expecting this to work is like expecting Jesus to show up at your Christmas party — little unrealistic.

    What I think I’d love to see come from this is the book outlining a modern man’s tale of being turned into a 1950s husband with a pseudo post-modern feminist at the helm. Breadwinner and equal life partner? Her body, her choice, your paycheck? Your blood, sweat, tears, and self-esteem and her entitlement? WTF?

    For a man who hasn’t be screwed lately, you have definitely been FUCKED. This is just wrong in so many ways that it makes me cringe.

  7. LOL @ Suzanne. You make some very excellent points!

  8. I think everyone has different outcomes with therapy unfortunately. It seems that it all comes down to finding the best match for you. And I think you need someone on your side. If you think the marriage is done then you need a therapist for you, let Penny get her own.

    Be selfish.

    And against what some may think, I believe you should surround yourself with people who understand. Isn’t that what this blog is for? People listening, you reading, understanding, gaining insight, taking away what you can for your own use.

    You have been thinking about her for years but when you get nothing in return it is time to think of your happiness and not just a way to keep her comfy and happy in a house and hold up her checkbook. You don’t have to be the rock. You have to be meeting your spouse in the middle and it seems she hasn’t done this in a long time.

    Because someday you deserve to swim with the sharks and sit on the beach with someone you love, not live with the shark. And be happy by doing so.

  9. […] 20, 2010 by itneverrainsinseattle As I noted in an earlier post, Paulette and I had gone to a couples counselor late in 2008, who seemed to me either to have run […]


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