Monday, February 16, 2009

Punch drunk therapy

"You can't fix it; no matter what you do, you can't. So why don't you quit trying?" Those words were uttered by the marriage counselor in our last session. It confuses the hell out of me. Were we not sitting in a room paying quite a bit of money by the hour in an attempt to fix our marriage?

Confusion is a wicked fighter. I dodge surgical jabs at my precious intellect, and deflect direct shots to my insecurities, but eventually she hits pay-dirt and I quickly find myself dizzy from bone-jarring blows to my very core.

"I don't get you," catching Confusion's master -- the therapist -- a little off guard. "You said I can't fix this. Then, you ask me to list a few possibilities or ideas for my wife and I to be together more often... and that feels a lot like trying to fix this."

She's a professional, so she lets me finish my thought. Expressionless, and with a slight tilt of the head, she listens patiently while processing my accusation.

"A month ago I pleaded that it was unreasonable to ask for things from my wife if I knew she really couldn't deliver," I continue. "It's a me problem. It's me."

"I need to adjust me in order to help solve this. You said that was impossible and unrealistic; then you, literally, went on and on about how much you've had to adjust yourself in how you deal with your husband on a daily basis. You wouldn't give that to me -- you just said all the things about changing you to deal with your husband the way I should change myself to start dealing with my wife... and you wouldn't let me have that."

I clearly touch a nerve as pursed lips and narrow eyes begin raising the room's temperature.

"It's damn confusing," I conclude. "I don't get you."

She pauses, and turns in her chair to put her notes back on her desk, then spins back around to face me directly.

I take a deep breath and listen intently, nodding occasionally, eyes darting around the room, arms folded but with one raised so my fingers can tap nervously upon my chin (my known tells, probably because that's what happens when I'm being criticized).

It was certainly a carefully crafted reply, voiced in a measured, reassuring tone, and aimed at calming me down and regaining control of the session. But, it might as well been the teacher from Charlie Brown, "WAA WAA WAA WAA WAA WAA," because I don't recall a single word.

On purpose or not, I tune her out completely.

In therapy, you're supposed to be honest and share feelings.

So how am I feeling? It's me against them; that's how I'm feeling. And that's a problem, because feeding that very belief -- as honest as it feels -- will probably prove counter productive to the overall process.

My wife, to her credit, sees the whole thing being boiled down in front of her. Not only do I spar with her over 14 years of hurt feelings, unmet needs, and constant blame, I'm beginning to view our therapist as a growing source of conflict -- on my wife's side and in her corner.

Maybe it's just me, but when marriage counseling begins to feel like a boxing match between half of the couple and the therapist then maybe it's not working.

Naturally, I'd rather not participate. After withstanding the tolls of an emotionally charged marriage all week, we cap each 7-day period by meeting with Iron Mike Tyson where the beatings can end on a high note -- with a proper ass kicking by a paid professional.

By 6 p.m. every Friday night, I'm feeling less like a recharged individual with new skills and heartened hope to go out and meet the challenges in my marriage but more like a battered prize fighter trying to recover from yet another demoralizing butt whooping.

Positive thinking and being a "grown up" about the whole thing are hard to remember when you can't breathe or can't see what you're supposed to do next.

Getting back into the ring week after week seems to be getting harder and harder.