She who gets counseled

This morning at promptly 10:00 a.m., my wife and I had a joint counseling session. She came home as per habit these days just after 9:00; I served her coffee, and she ate a bunch of potato chips. (Yes, this is true! I am keeping an extra bag or two around the house these days because she likes them so much.) She then asked if she’d have time to take a shower before the session, and I said that would be okay.

She did promptly enter the living room just before 10:00. I phoned the counselor, and despite a few technical glitches (the signal dropped 3 times in a row for some reason) the session got off to a start.

I have to say that my counselor is an incredibly skilled and talented individual. He was able to establish rapport and trust with my wife right away. He began by telling my wife that she had a beautiful name (it’s Japanese), but he was afraid he’d mispronounce it, so he asked her to say it for him so that he could get it right. This was a big plus, major brownie points. He then asked us both what our goal for the session would be, that is: if we had to choose one outcome that we would consider that would make the session a success, what would that be? My wife said that she wanted to understand my feelings better and to know where I’m coming from these days, and, surprisingly, I said that that was my desire as well. The surprise wasn’t that that was my goal, but rather that she had the same one as me.

He then began by saying that he knew quite a bit about my situation from having spoken to me several times over the past few months, and that he’d be better able to help me if he were able to understand her perspective on things. So he said, “tell me where you’re at right now, and let me know a little bit about how you got there.”

She began by saying that she was trying to take some distance from me. He asked her why she was doing that, and she said that she felt like she didn’t want to remain in the relationship any longer,  but that she did want to remain my friend. To me, this sounded like two mutually exclusive goals. He said that he understood where she was coming from, and asked her to express what she thought my opinion of the relationship was. Her response was interesting. She said, “he thinks that marriage is eternal, and he doesn’t want to admit that things have changed.” To this, he said, “well, I’m not so sure that your husband would say that marriage is eternal, but do you think it’s possible that he’s just still in love with you?” This made her think a bit.

He then asked her to back up and tell him how long she has been feeling this way. She told him it’s been about three months now. He asked her what happened three months ago that caused her feelings to change. She said that she suddenly “blew the lid off” (this is her favorite phrase) and began to see that there were a lot of problems in our marriage that she had been ignoring, and suddenly she was not able to ignore them anymore. He asked her what those problems were, and she began to tell him how I’d lost my job a few years ago, how I became very depressed, we had to move back to the city so that she could begin to work and so that I could find work, that the economy was down so I had a hard time finding work and I became more depressed, and so on. Eventually, she began to feel that my situation wouldn’t change, and she began to nag and hound me. She said that things would change for a day or two, but then after a week or so I’d go back to my old self. He asked me if that was true, and I said that, to my recollection, her description was pretty much accurate. She said that she felt like she was mothering me, and that she was beginning to lose her partnership in the relationship with me. She continued to nag and became increasingly resentful.

He then asked her about this trigger that “blew the lid off”: was there something that caused that to happen? (He more or less knew the answer to this, but wanted to get this from the horse’s mouth.) She said, “I met a guy.” This is the first time she had mentioned the affair in my presence in over three months. He asked her about this guy, and she said that he’s very spiritual, he had similar life events to hers and he began to share them with her, they found many similarities, and she began to discover that she had a different life path opening up in front of her. Now, my counselor was very careful in handling this information: he did not judge her behavior, but he also did not probe to find out if this was anything other than a friendship, since her description of it made the nature of the relationship totally unclear. What he got out of her at this point was that her new path involved finding a life partner.

He probed that issue. What would she consider a life partner to be? She told him that this would be someone who would be her equal, and whom she could support and feel supported by. It was right about at this point that he zinged her with a good one, and I was a bit flabbergasted. He said, “well, if you asked me, I’d say you married your life partner seven years ago.” I just thought to myself, “whoa — I don’t believe he just said that!” He had built up enough rapport and trust with my wife to say that, and clearly he felt he had the opening to do so, and we were only about 20 minute into the conversation. This was really astonishing to me, as I thought she’d get upset and want to leave.

But she didn’t. She took it in stride, and kept on talking with him. He began to ask her to describe this “new path” she had mentioned, and what would it look like. She said that she had felt too dependent on me in the past: the didn’t know how to drive, so I had to take her everywhere, I took care of the taxes and other paperwork, and so on. She just wanted to be independent at this point in her life. Actually, what she was expressing was the desire for more autonomy, and that’s quite different. But my counselor didn’t quibble with the semantics. He told her that he thought her desire for independence was a good thing, and that “the universe would support that.” He asked her what I thought of this “new path,” and she complained that I had accused her of making bad decisions, yet she felt that her decisions were totally justified. He then said, “well, I suspect that your husband doesn’t think your desire for independence would be a bad thing, but I’d imagine he thinks that you looking for a new life partner is a bad decision.” He asked me if that were accurate, and I said that was basically spot on. He then defused this a bit by asking how and in what ways I might support her greater autonomy. She had mentioned her desire to take driving lessons, but the tuition was higher than expected; I said that I totally supported her learning how to drive and had tried to encourage that in the past, and felt that it would take pressure off me having to cart her around everywhere. I also told him that I had tried to teach her how to drive a number of years ago, but eventually stopped because I didn’t feel I was qualified to teach her that — I actually had a hard time explaining how to drive a car, since it is just second nature to me.

He then returned to the marriage and asked her to go back to a time when things were good between us. She said that the first couple of years were great, and that there really were no problems. She mentioned that she moved out to a little town with me where I was teaching, and that she had had to give up all her students and gigs, and that it was hard for her to find work in that town. This meant that we had to spend weekends coming back to the city — 110 miles each way — so that she could continue to work and earn some money. This was actually one of her biggest gripes: that she never got to have weekends. She went so far as to say that she worked 7 days a week, which was and still is totally inaccurate: back then she worked a few hours on Saturday and a few on Sunday, maybe about 8 or 9 hours total, and then had students on 1 or 2 days per week for a total of about 5 hours, tops. On occasion, she’d get some work from the university, and that would swell her workload to 10 hours during the week, but this was inconsistent. In the end, she admitted that the first four years of marriage were pretty much good, and it was just over the past 3 years that things started to decline.

This was the point where he began to turn up the heat. He said, “I imagine that you’re like a lot of people I know: you probably have some girlfriends or other friends who you might talk to, and if they were in a situation like yours, they’d tell you to put it all behind you and get a divorce.” He asked her if that were true, and she said that that was more or less the case. He then told her, “you could very well go down that path, but in my experience what ends up happening is that, a year or two into going down that path you find out that your new path is no better than the one you left behind; in fact, in many ways, it’s worse.” He then told her that people who enter second marriages are more likely to get divorced than those in their first marriages. He asked her if she was aware of that, and she said, “I think that’s generally true, but that doesn’t apply to me in my case.” This was pretty astonishing: statistics may be factual, but statistical likelihoods have nothing to do with me.

He then asked her to help him to help me better understand what my fixings would be to better myself, and she said that I had done a lot, if not most of the things she’d wanted to see. He said that she had told her that it sounded to her like I had really been working on myself, and that I was becoming the husband that she had wanted me to be, and she freely admitted that. He then suggested that he saw the possibility of that path leading right to me, and that in the very near future she’d find that soul mate, life partner, and husband that she always wanted, and that person would be me. She was very skeptical, but interestingly enough she did not get up and walk away, argue, or protest.

We then began to wrap things up. He said to my wife that he wanted to make sure that she felt like she got the chance to express herself and that she felt like she was understood. She said she felt she did. He asked me what she felt she could take away from this session, and she said that she felt she could understand me better. He asked me that same question, and oddly enough, I said I felt that my wife had expressed that she wanted to support me. Somehow that seemed strangely true to me. He then wrapped up by saying that we weren’t trying to change anyone’s minds with this session, but it sounded like we weren’t fighting very much, if at all, and I told him that those days were pretty much behind us. He then said that he felt we had a wonderful opportunity to continue this conversation by having lunch together or sharing some time after the session was over. Then we wrapped things up and concluded the call.

Here’s what I learned from this experience: My wife’s argument for her affair, her “new path,” her desire to separate from me, etc. is all resting on a foundation of fairy dust. There’s nothing there. Pretty much all of her complaints about me have been negated through my own behavioral changes. I wouldn’t say that I’m 100% to where I’d want to be, but I’m certainly far enough along that there’s not much reason for her to complain anymore. My hope is that, by her having gone through this process, she will on some level at least begin to see that this is the case as well.

There are a couple of other curious things about this. First, while sitting on the couch with my wife during this session, it occurred to me that I had not felt this close to her emotionally for over 3 months. It was actually like experiencing a level of intimacy with her that has been absent for quite a while. Second, I came away with the conviction that I am 100% that I will reconcile my marriage. It’s not a question of “if,” but rather “when.” I cannot really answer that latter question, but I’d say that it will happen sometime between now and, oh, I don’t know, May. I just need time, that’s all. I already know what to do; I’m just waiting for the affair to end.

Strangely enough, I somehow feel that this session will put pressure on the affair. I don’t have any evidence for this, it’s just my intuition speaking. If I had to come up with scenarios, I see two possibilities. First and most likely is that she will share this information with her lover. The more she shares with him about this, and I doubt she’d hold back on details, the more likely it is that he will feel insecure. He will see that his competition (me) is not backing off, and that not only do I have the upper hand — this has been demonstrated many times already — but that this has been verified by an expert third party. Second and less likely is that she doesn’t tell him about this, or she tells him but withholds details. This puts pressure on the relationship by increasing the dishonesty level between them, which likely is already pretty high.

Either way, it’s pretty much a lose-lose situation. He might try to come across as a sympathetic, “sensitive” guy, encouraging her for having done the right thing by doing this counseling session, but inside he’ll probably find the results rather unsettling. He wants her in the house in the near future, but he’s got to get me to disengage, and I’m not doing that, nor am I showing any signs of relenting. Moreover, I’ve got an expert opinion to back me up. This might mean that he’ll have to start pushing her to file against me; that’s another matter entirely which I’d rather not think about right now, but it would certainly raise their stress level. If she doesn’t tell him, or withholds information, then she has to live with the knowledge that she cannot disclose, and/or he will suspect that she’s not being totally honest with him.

You see where this is going? Exactly: right into the same dustbin of adultery that every other adulterous affair ends up in. They all get flushed down into that same vortex, the one that they created. Adulterers just don’t get it: right from day one the clock starts ticking, and it’s the clock of a ticking time bomb that will take out the relationship in toto. There just is no avoiding the explosion. It’s built into the process. There are simply too many pressures in the world that manifest to conspire against an adulterous relationship being successful. What’s more astonishing is that this man is a serial adulterer: he’s been there before, and he apparently has not yet learned his lesson. He’ll get burned again, and in the pretty near future, too.

You know what they say, “cheaters never prosper.” It’s true. Very, very true.