Sunday, April 27, 2008

Unconventional Date Night

Summer 2000

Spring 2008

Therapy nights are great date nights. We have a sitter and she has food to feed the children. After work, Paul and I drive - usually together - to see our therapist, which provides time alone together in the car for adult conversation without interruptions! After a session, which feels productive on several different levels, we head slowly back home, often stopping for supper along the way. I don't think this is what people have in mind when they suggest that parents of young children "make time for yourselves as a couple," but it's not a bad way to do it, either.

I think that most relationships would benefit from a little therapy, at least occasionally. It's impossible for us each to have perfect perspective on what's going on so close to home, and an impartial and professional third party can be a great help in identifying relationship stressors (even those that we deny to ourselves by subconsciously pushing down uncomfortable thoughts) and developing strategies for coping with them more effectively.

But - and of course there is a but - therapy is pretty much useless unless all participants want to be there and are willing to really work at it. You've got to check your skepticism at the door and really be willing to believe in the likelihood of success.

I have always been a therapy skeptic, but over the past year and a half, my perspective has undergone a massive shift. Due to the phenomenal assistance of two fantastic marriage and family therapists (note the therapist locator links), Paul's work on his own with a therapist, and his willingness to join with me in working very hard at our marriage, we're in a healthier place than we have been in a long, long time. In some ways, we're healthier than we ever have been, since we've both learned to admit to ourselves and speak up to each other about the grains of sand that accumulate over time to foul up the machinery.

We don't see our therapist all the time, now, but when we start feeling like we're running a little rough, not communicating well, fighting more frequently, we call and set up an appointment. This last time, things got better as soon as I made the call. But when we sat down in session and the therapist said, "I'm glad you called. You did the right thing, coming in," I knew that she was right. And she helped us identify why things had been building up, and it really was the right thing, even though by the time we go there we hardly felt like we needed it. (We did need it. Just because the engine stops knocking when the mechanic is in the car doesn't mean that there's no problem!)

Several people I care about have talked to me about therapy: how it's working for us, how it might be beneficial to them. But, so frequently, I hear, "My husband/wife would never agree . . . " and that's a huge problem. In my experience, both parties really have to be willing to do the work together. I also hear a lot of "we don't have the time," or "we can't afford it." To the former, I suggest that we make the time for what's most important to us, and to the latter, I ask: Can you afford not to? How important is your partnership? How hard are you willing to work to keep it, to enrich it, to make it better?


Rob Monroe said...

One of the most meaningful gifts given to us for our wedding was counseling. It was three (four?) sessions of pre-marital counseling and one follow up after the big day.

If you can not afford counseling, ask someone that you know and love if they will pay for (at least part of) it for you. I know for a fact that some folks would rather spend money on something for my relationship than just another gift card.

Amanda said...

On the ability to afford it, check your health insurance plan. Some of them will pay for therapy or have a separate plan for it.

Sarahlynn said...

Rob, what a fantastic wedding gift idea. In fact, we're going to a wedding later this month and I've been wondering what to give . . .

Amanda, that's a good point. Also, a lot of employers have an Employee Assistance Program or something similarly named that's actually FREE and can set up one or two therapy appointments, then help you find someone who will fit within your budget going forward. My company offered that service to Paul and me, even though I was only working a few hours a week and not benefits-eligible. (We ended up going with someone else, but it was good to know that the option was there if we'd needed it.)

Beach/Vic said...

Your posts on marriage, counseling and therapy have all been very inspiring to me. I have benefited greatly from individual therapy on a number of occasions. I'd love to get Relic into couples' therapy and am still gently but persistently working away on him regarding that. I agree with you completely that marriages take continual work. They're an investment, not something to take for granted. They're also what we show our children about relationships and so it's a duty for us as parents to do our best to give our kids a healthy example.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

We used to do dinner followed by 12 Step meetings for our date nights. Now we just go out -- I don't think we'd still be together without that time.