Couples Therapy

/Couples Therapy
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Hob-Nobbing

We got a late start for breakfast on Sunday morning, which landed us shoulder-to-shoulder with half of Nashville, Indiana in the tiny waiting area of Hobnob Corner. An eighty-something couple followed us as we squeezed through the door; the group behind them were left to wait on the sidewalk.

My wife is a serial eavesdropper. She says it’s research for writing; I say she may be overly interested in the business of others–nosy. Regardless, the way we were crammed together, I couldn’t help but hear the conversation between the eighty-somethings beside us.

Mr.       “You want to go someplace else?”

Mrs.      “I don’t think there is anyplace else.”

He shifted from one foot to the other. Tried to stand on his toes to scope out the room for tables with potential for opening. And then made a second pass . . .

Mr.       “You want to go someplace else?”

Mrs.     “It won’t be that long. Here she comes.”

The waitress secured a count for each group waiting, including the party of two, eighty-somethings and us. She made no comment or promise regarding wait time. He grumbled and returned to his shifting from foot to foot.

Third pass . . .

Mr.       “You want to go someplace else?”

Mrs.      “You can’t even wait five minutes!” She rolled her eyes in disgust and marched out the door.

I smiled at Debi and said “We just got our next blog.”

I would guess that the pattern in this conversation between the Mr. and Mrs. eighty-something was set long ago. Neither was direct or honest with their partner about their wishes. Obviously, he did not want to wait in line. He wanted to go someplace else, but never directly said so. He wheedled her into making the decision to leave.

She wanted to wait–eat pancakes at the Hobnob–understandable. But rather than saying “I want to wait. This is important to me,” she tried to redirect him, pacify him, even misguide him into believing that The Hobnob was the only place to serve breakfast in Nashville on Sunday. Simply not true and he knew it.

Maybe he was living up to a reputation of impatience or maybe he was in physical pain or couldn’t tolerate the sardine conditions. Who knows? Because he never told her. He just asked her the identical question three times until she gave up in frustration.

I hope they found a decent breakfast and were able to enjoy it–we certainly enjoyed ours. But the sad thing is, he probably paid for winning that stand-off. She was obviously disappointed and angry. She may have told him off on the way down the street or more likely, she waited until their adult kids were around and announced, “Your dad is such a grumpy old man that he wouldn’t even wait in line for five minutes for breakfast at The Hobnob on Sunday.”

The conversation is classic. Two people who clearly have a desire but are unwilling to clearly communicate it. They behave in a passive-aggressive way rather than being open with one another.  Closeness is sacrificed as the couple accumulates grudges that keep them at a “safe” distance. Intimacy suffers. I see it every day in my office and I couldn’t resist sharing this simple, yet clear example.

The wait, by the way, was about twenty minutes and with all the people watching and eavesdropping opportunities, it felt like five. For me, the wait time was irrelevant. I wouldn’t think of asking, “Do you want to go someplace else?” I know better.

Marriage–A Renewable Resource?

Allow me to begin with a reminder that these blogs are written with the purpose of opening discourse, an encouragement to consider a fresh perspective. They are not research pieces, nor are they ever presented as “The Answer.” Most often ideas spring from discussions I have with clients–especially issues I hear repeatedly.

Roughly half of the couples I see for marital therapy report that their marriage has grown stale.  The vitality they once enjoyed in their relationship is gone.

They report:

“We never thought we’d be here. Never.”

“We miss us. We miss what we used to have.”

“We are not having fun anymore.”

“We have become roommates.”

Typically, they are mentally and emotionally drained. Burned out by responsibilities of their respective careers, kids’ schedules, and keeping up with a home. They once shared the joy of a deep connection; now they share a sense of living tired, overwhelmed, and hopeless. Unhappy, they blame each other and the marriage, resulting in hurt and frustration.

I praise couples for their bravery and willingness to be vulnerable, seeking to improve their marriage before they reach a crisis situation. They’re in the “We’re-okay-but-we-know-it-can-be-much-better,” category.

I always ask clients what they want to hire me to do. Often partners hire me to guide them as they rediscover the fun and enjoyment they once found in their marriage.

The process begins with the following steps:

  • Acknowledge that the marriage needs attention.
  • Sharing and respectfully listening to each others’ perspective on how “we got here.”
  • Review what initially attracted them to one another.
  • Commit to change from the current routine.
  • Examine leisure time–entertainment.

Many couples spend little, or no, time together–alone. They are either with the kids, friends, or family. They cannot recall the last time they did something fun, just as a couple.

I question, “Suppose your marriage was a resource, what are you doing to renew it? Sustain it?” Marriage may be viewed as a renewable resource, but not one that replenishes naturally. We are not solar powered.  The wonderful passion and vitality of a relationship may be consumed to the point of depletion if we do not recharge regularly. We must engage in relationship resource management. Healthy marriages are sustained by a commitment of both time and energy. Happy marriages are treated as a priority.

Stepping into a therapist’s office, openly admitting that your marriage is not the source of joy that it once was is difficult. Sadly, for some, awkward and embarrassing. But for many, it is the first step in renewing a highly valuable resource.

From We’re No Fun Anymore by Schwarz and Braff, “It is not that couples are not playing and having fun because they are angry and resentful; they are angry and resentful because they are not playing and having fun together” (xiv).

Real Men Don’t Do Yoga

Our first two blog entries were of an historical nature.  Today I turn to the present.  I have a personal anecdote to share based upon two of my foundational beliefs.

  1.   I learn as much from my clients as they do from me; this is an integral part of my experience as a therapist.
  2.   We must all be willing to step outside of our comfort zone to grow, both as individuals, and in our “couple-ship.”

One of my clients reported, as part of her assigned, self-care that she was engaging in a private yoga lesson at Evolutions Yoga.

I had actually visited classes at Evolutions a few times with my wife, Debi, a yoga devotee.   Once, we spent an extended weekend at The Birdwing Spa in Litchfield, Minnesota where we experienced daily yoga classes.  We practice Chi Gong several times a week in our basement. I understood the physical and mental benefits of yoga.  But the few classes I had attended, and at the Birdwing Sap, I was the only male participant, and it was just . . . well, a little awkward.  The poses.  My lack of flexibility.  The only guy thing.  But, a private class would give me the opportunity to reap the stretching my body so desperately needed and provide a new activity we could enjoy together.

Proudly, I came home and told Debi, “I have and idea for us.  A new adventure.  We are going to take a private yoga class from Jenni at Evolutions yoga.”  She about knocked me over getting to the computer to email Jenni to request our first appointment.  We were set.  Thursday mornings semi-private lesson with Jenni.  I vowed to make a go of it and not mention this to my brothers.

Initially, we engaged in poses with which I was familiar.  Downward-facing dog.  Forward fold.  She taught us to exalt our warrior back to back, moving as one, cooperative unit.  Later we practiced “flight”: I was on the floor, The Base, with my feet in the air while Debi was draped over my feet, The Flyer, much like I used to do with the girls when they were little.  Each week presented new challenges and my stiff lower back was beginning to thank me.  This was good.

Then one Thursday morning, Jenni presented us with a new challenge.  Debi was to be The Base, and I The Flyer.  Complete role reversal.  I was faced with draping my body over her feet, her legs extended toward the ceiling, and trusting her to push me up into the air.  She had the position of physical strength and control.  It took some real coaching from Jenni for this to actually happen.  Debi, who loved the freedom of flying, experienced fear.  Were her legs strong enough to vault me into the air and hold steady?   Would she get hurt?  Drop me on my head? This was totally foreign ground for me.  Couldn’t do it.  Couldn’t trust.  Couldn’t let go of the control.  Our individual lack of self-confidence and fear fed our reticence.  We laughed.  Jenni instructed.  After several false starts, we finally managed the pose and no one got hurt.

We were both completely surprised at how difficult it was to relinquish our traditional roles.  We’re not exactly a traditional couple defined by conventional roles.

In reflection, I see how much vulnerability and trust actually equals strength.  How one must occasionally let go of control and traditional roles to grow.  And how important it is for each of us to challenge ourselves by stepping outside of our comfort zones. This experience was one of growth for me.  An experience I willingly share in hopes of encouraging all of my clients; individuals, couples, and families, to be willing to step beyond normal limits.  Think outside that old cliche’ box!

I must admit, this real man does yoga.  And enjoys it.  Just don’t tell my brothers.