Earlier today I was overcome with emotion while thinking about a couple I've been working with for 8 months (*timing and other identifying details have been changed to ensure strict confidentiality). When they first came in it was hard for either of them to see the possibility of ever being happy together again. To say they were in marital hell would be an understatement. She was repulsed by her perspective of him and he was repulsed by his perspective of her. She would have said she felt "betrayed" and he would have said he "didn't feel safe" to be himself or communicate his needs. Their communication was corrupt and influenced by years of avoiding issues because the ways they both knew how to deal with issues ended in screaming and they wanted to avoid that. They had both forgotten how to see the best in each other and were taking everything personally. Their story is common: one I've heard before.
In the beginning of our work together sessions were filled with tears and aggressive communication. There was probably a period of time when they both felt worse than before starting therapy. She said there were times she wanted to "run out of the office" while he unloaded years of things he'd held inside. Everything is difficult until it becomes easy.
I compare learning the skills to enhance relationships to learning to ride a unicycle. When learning difficult skills like this there will be days where you feel you're doing worse and things are SO awful. Usually shortly after this "decline" there's a breakthrough. Learning to ride a unicycle doesn't happen in a day. There can be days or weeks of trial and error and anyone who's done it will tell you there are days when you think you're worse off than you were the day before. Then the next day you seem to be tons better than you were the day before last! Your brain rewiring itself takes time, and trial and error, for learning to take place and to reach a deeper understanding when learning difficult skills (unicycling, communicating effictively when hurt or angry, learning a new language, etc.).
All the learning happens during the difficult times. [...]
You might be asking yourself, "What kept this couple committed to the unicycle for 8 months?!" The answer is: a baby. At the worst time of crisis in their marriage the couple found out they were pregnant. What would have been an easy time to leave (and they both would have been utterly justified) turned into a period of intense commitment and a sudden intolerance for anything less than greatness and feeling good in their relationship.
I get teary just thinking about this baby and her already powerful ability to bring people together and the perfection in the timing of her conception. There are no coincidences. To her parents her value and worth has always been clear and in the clearness of her value they have been reminded of their own. For years they have tolerated for themselves a mediocre relationship that turned painful (they inevitably do). For this child, and ultimately themselves, they have walked on a path through fire, torrential downpours, and dis-ease to get back to a land of plenty where love and peace abound. If I described the depth of their smiles and positive regard for each other in our last few sessions you wouldn't believe me.
I have had the honor of handing them the map and giving direction when needed to get back to where they wanted to be. They've done 90% of the work and I've done 10%. I am ridiculously proud of their commitment to this not-always-easy process and I hope they are too. I'm excited to see what they'll create within this relationship. They have chosen to continue therapy to strengthen the skills needed to stay in this place. They have been clear that they "NEVER" want to get that far off track again. I have been clear that getting off track is unavoidable, but getting back on track quickly is a definite possibility. Life comes at us in waves. You can't control when the waves come or how big or small they are, but you can learn to surf...you just need some skills and a lot of practice. **(ps - I heard that somewhere and now can't remember from what or whom. My apologies to the source)
Sweet Baby Girl,
Your parents have done a tremendous amount of work, inside and out, in preparation for your arrival. It is obvious you are loved. My wish for you is that your parents always remember the best thing they can do for you is to keep themselves happy. Thank you for reminding me of this and making it clearer in a whole new way. I have learned from you and your parents and I'm grateful.
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