I have advised a lot of other people to do marriage counseling over the years and have even said dumb shit like, "It's a way to keep things from breaking, not just for after they're broken! It's like prophylactic healthcare, it keeps your bond healthy," etc, etc. I think when I said it I meant it, but now that I'm faced with marriage counseling myself I'd really rather not, thanks. We've dabbled in it before. About 12 years ago after I had a few miscarriages and was an empty shell of a me, we went to a couples counselor to patch me/us back together. We went for a few months and then I got pregnant and it stuck, so we happily stopped. We should have gone back after we had the miracle rainbow baby and I was exhausted and angry and overworking myself at home and the hospital and my husband was doing fun things like training for marathons. That's about the time I started planning to murder him for the first time and I think I was afraid that if I went to a counselor they'd be obligated to report me and stop my crime in its tracks.
We also should have gone when we sank a ton of money into a renovation project, leaving us pretty broke just as we had another kid. We should have gone when we had an infant and a toddler and both hated our jobs. We should have gone when jobs were lost and left and we started a small business and everything was a terrifying, fucking mess. We should have gone but money and time, ego and fear stopped us.
At some point, when the money was tight and the kids were little and I was so bitter I couldn't look at him and I again pined for some version of murder or divorce, he brought up counseling. I said, "Ok, fine, I'll go, but I'm tapped out. I'm not dealing with the details. If you want this, you find us a counselor and a sitter and the logistics." There was so little threat of him actually doing it, that I didn't give it much thought. Many, many months later, he halfheartedly found us a counselor (who was rude and wore very dark lipstick) and a sitter (who was warm and didn't) and we went...once.
The counselor made what I thought were sweeping generalizations and assumptions and sided with my husband before she got to know us. She encouraged him talk about himself the whole time, which made him really happy, which I hate. She called me a martyr and asked me to reflect on how I might have a part in our issues. Fantastic, I thought as we drove away. Now I have two murders to plan. I already do everything around here. When the hell am I going to find the time to do all that?
A martyr?! How dare she.
So then we somehow limped stubbornly through the next many years of co-owning a small business, the pandemic, a second cross-country move, and coparenting through really difficult things. We're also both been negotiating our way into proper adulthood. I went back into counseling and he's been regularly seeing someone for the first time. We've made dramatic career and personal changes and now we're ready to face some shit that's been sitting stale and fragile between us....I guess.
The problem is, now when we discuss maybe seeing someone, he actually has his shit together and does it. He made the call that it would be good for us to go and then did the legwork without any threats, reminders, ultimatums, or input from me whatsoever. So now, like, I have to go! Blerg.
My biggest fears are unearthing really painful things we can't then pretend aren't there, causing a chasm between us that fucks up our kids, and losing at marriage therapy. Like what if two counselors decide that I am the problem when it's been so abundantly clear all of these years that he is? Do I then have to swear off the whole discipline of psychotherapy as a scam? What if the therapist tells me I have to figure out how to be loved and it requires more messy healing and whatnot? What if the counselor doesn't laugh at my jokes?
In truth, I'm terrified of the vulnerability and ugly things living in the shadows that will be brought into the light. They're there and they cause us trouble, but we've successfully tucked them away for so long, it seems dangerous to call them forth.
Also, it's like going to the dentist with my kids. It's hard not to feel judged for their bad habits and for my role in them.
I'm afraid, but I think our twenty year marriage has earned some effort. Also, he's a different partner than he was and I haven't dreamed about murder in, gosh, like four or five days, so we're really on a role. He could write his own version of this and I won't speak for him (SOMETHING I'M WORKING ON), but for me, I think counseling will require me to set down some of my ancient grudges that I cling to as part of my identity and story. In fact, working with my own therapist and reading up on things like codependency and boundaries have made me realize I have pretty clear work to do and that yes, martyrdom is a place I've been living. That mean lady with the purple lipstick was onto something, dammit.
We go Tuesday. I'll let you know how it goes. Unless I lose at counseling, then I'll deny I ever wrote any of this.