I know it’s the middle of October by now, but I just have to say – My Dearest Routine, I have missed you so much. And – Welcome back! Am I the only one – or are you with me? September is what I call the ‘Transition period’ in our household – going from the bliss of summer to re-entering the real world.
And you know what the funny thing is? I always knew that having a routine is paramount for children. That it benefited them in so many ways, right? But I would have never imagined that it would have had such great impact on me, as an adult. That I would be missing it so much so that at one point I found myself yearning for its return – even before Labor Day weekend. I suppose there is something to be said for order.
Yes, for us, with the summer months in full force, the routine was out the door. Completely and utterly so. We had one too many nights that we stayed up way past our bedtime. Kids and adults alike. Other times, we got up way before we normally do.
If it wasn’t that someone was visiting and staying overnight, we were doing some remodeling in the basement and staying up for that, paint all over our pants and shirts. If it wasn’t a party we had been invited to, we had guests that we were entertaining on our back patio. If it wasn’t someone dropping by from a far-away land, it was friends celebrating birthdays, farewell parties or just plain getting together for no reason other than – it’s nice out, do you wanna come over and grill?
And then, there were the days of reunions. Happy hours. Soccer games. Trips to the pool with the kids. Long weekends packed with one thing after the next, staying up with company or watching a movie on the back porch. Because it’s too nice not to enjoy our lounge chairs out there. And – this is the only time of the year we can do it. And then there was the vacation that was long-overdue, seeing the beauties that the Colorado mountains are at last. I can’t say I wouldn’t have preferred not to have waited for that long – But man, was I ever grateful. And yes, it was well worth the wait, if you must know.
So – you may be asking yourself – why is this post called confessions of a couples counselor? I am just about to tell you that. Ready? Today marks one week since I stepped foot on the foam mat flooring at the gym in our neighborhood where I have had membership fees deducted from my card monthly since January. Prior to last week, I have not shown my face there – oh, I don’t know – in a while. How long exactly?
Let’s just say it’s been so long that they threw away my equipment with my name on it (after keeping it in lost and found for a while first) because they had no reason to believe that I was ever showing my face there again. My yellow attendance card had made its way into the trash because it had one day too many missing on the paper, unsigned. Some might say they haven’t seen me forever. And as much as I hate to admit it, they would be right.
But, doesn’t the saying go something like this? Confession/realization is the first step to recovery…? Well, there you have it. Black on white. So that’s what I did. I walked in there again for the first time last Monday. I was kind of hoping that nobody would notice. But the owners welcomed me with open arms. And some of the other FIT members remembered my name. And you have to understand, nobody ever remembers my name. So – Believe it or not, they took me back! (And I had so much I don’t know if I should be admitting it publicly like this right here. But – ‘Tis the truth)
And there is no excuse. Being a counselor who works with couples, I should know better. I talk to couples about making regular commitments to each other. I talk to them about the importance of sleep. The importance of physical activity. I talk to them about the significance of regular family conferences. I tell them they need to talk about money. And about sex. And the dirty dishes in the sink. And a myriad of other things they don’t want to talk about.
It’s not that I didn’t know any better. Or that my lower back hasn’t been complaining all this while. But, somewhere between my head and my feet (as they are the ones getting me out of bed when it’s still dark in the morning), something short-circuited there somewhere, and once I’ve been out for a week of two, that new routine – it sort of just set in. Maybe you know what I am talking about. And if you don’t, well – that’s what happened in my case.
My million-dollar question for you today is this:
That’s right, what happened to your routine? Might you have neglected yours in some way? Have you been eating out too much and left to the graces of the establishment that your friends picked? Have you collected what seems like an enormous pile of mail sitting on the counter, with a mental note on top saying “I will do it tomorrow”? Has your vacuum cleaner been lonely in the closet so much so that it started entertaining the idea of approaching the spider in the corner? Have you neglected your yoga mat for so long you can’t remember the secret spot where you stashed it quick when your friends were at the door, ready to celebrate Memorial Day in style?
Might you have neglected your relationship? It’s all legit – all those things that we put on our plate over the summer – they are all very good and very real. I know you were busy. So was I. And I know that you were probably even spending a ton of time together – and about 10 or 20 other people at a time. But, do you even remember when the last time was that you went on a date? And I mean – Just the two of you, so that you could really connect again?
Our daughter by now knows to use the phrase “having alone time together” when we drop her off at her grandparents’ or a babysitter steps foot in the house. And she is not even seven yet. When was the last time you did that? Summer is really good for many things. But I am afraid, with the routine out the door, our relationships suffer too.
If you are asking yourself how long I have had the hidden camera rolling at your house, it is YOU I am talking to. What are you gonna do about it?
If you need to get that date night back on the calendar, do that. If you need to call and reserve your favorite nanny or grandparent so that you can accomplish that, do that too. Make a plan. Make it happen. Start with one day. One date. One week. That’s all it takes.
Once it happens once, you just keep making it happen. The first step back in the right direction is always the most difficult.
(Alternately, if you are looking for a place/gym/program to call home, check THIS out. I would be lying if I said I don’t recommend it highly. Besides, under its new ownership, the place looks like it got a makeover and they DO know your name.)
When couples walk into my office and they are brave enough to admit that they have no idea how this thing called ‘counseling’ works, I am delighted. Because that way I get to explain to them how I work with couples. I get to explain to them, piece by piece, how marriage counseling works.
Sometimes people have this idea that they would walk in and it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 sessions to take care of whatever the issues is they are walking in with. As if that weren’t enough, we live in a time where everything HAS to be DONE. RIGHT. NOW. Here’s my short answer to that.
I don’t have a magic wand. Sometimes I wish I did. But I don’t. To expect that I can make things disappear on command in that short of a period of time is more than unrealistic. Here’s why:
In our first session, all I am doing is getting to know you two and learning what brought you in. I want to know how you got to where you are today. I want to hear from each of you, knowing that you both have your own reality. Knowing very well also, that the two realities you each present may or may not align. And I want and need to know when they do and which parts of them don’t. I want to know what your dance is. Yes, that dance that you have been performing since you met or starting dating. Because only then, only when I know what your dance looks like, can we do something about it.
Then, partly because I am a Marriage and Family Therapist (as opposed to a Psychoanalyst who just sees the person sitting in front of them as if in a bubble), and partly because I have learned that a lot of who we are has to do with where we come from, I want to know a little bit about that. Even though you each come alone, sitting on a couch together, or in separate chairs, you are bringing other people into the room. Sometimes it’s family. Sometimes it your kids. And other times yet it’s your ex-es.
I spend roughly a session with each in the couple – with you both present – talking about your family of origin. Yes, I ask for names and geographic locations and relational histories of the people that end up on your Family Tree.
Then we are done with that, we review your initial hopes and goals and we make a plan. From there, we move forward.
How, you are asking, is counseling like painting then? It’s like painting because it’s a process. You can’t smash all of this information into one, or two, or even three 50 minute sessions.
When we were recently doing some house repair/remodel in our home, we had a deadline. Family visiting from out of town in about a month. People who were hoping to occupy that space in peace and comfort.
As it always so happens, we found one bigger issue that needed to be addressed before we ever would be able to put the walls back up/on and even start picking the colors for the walls to be painted with. I so badly wanted to get the project done in the original time frame but we were told that the cement needed to dry for 10 days, pushing our deadline out way too far.
So, when it came time to paint, I asked what the shortest time period would be that we could do that in. I wanted it all done ASAP. There was so much still to be done after we were done with that.
As much as I tried, the answer was – you can’t hurry the process. I knew we needed a base coat, and then at least two coats of color after that. Maybe three. In my head, I was already mourning not being able to meet the deadline and needing to have family stay elsewhere for a few days when they arrived. Humid weather didn’t help. So we went with it.
Now, we could have done the priming in the morning, and smacked the next coat on before the first one was quite dry, adding another and another, being done by noon.
The risk being – if the walls aren’t dry enough and the colors are thrown on the walls prematurely, the color would not be even. Depending on the level of humidity that day, they could even peel off. They would be been done but there would be a greater chance that we would have to start from scratch a week or two later. All that because we didn’t wait long enough and didn’t let the layers dry as recommended. If you want it done right, you can’t hurry the process.
Often when you come in with one issue at hand, some other issue might surface that also needs your attention. You can’t paint before the walls are up and finished. In the same way, you may not be able to move on unless you take care of this issue at hand.
And then, remember this: You have been ‘perfecting’ your ways as a couple for one, five, ten or twenty some years. You cannot expect that in 2-3 sessions we would undo all that, get you both on track and send you on your way. If you are looking for a three session fix, I am not your girl. I can’t put a band-aid on a wound that requires a trip to the ER.
When couples ask me how long marriage counseling typically takes, there is no magic answer. Generally speaking, depending on what our plan looks like at the end of session four you are probably looking at 10-12 weeks of weekly sessions at a minimum. Three to six months is quite common, with more time necessary if you two have been in great distress for months or years and never talked about the elephant in the room. And maybe by now, it’s a whole elephant family.
Lastly, I do pride myself in always saying and sharing my mantra: “I am in the business of putting myself out of business.”
I don’t want you to need me forever. I want you as a couple to do the work you need to do, process what you need to process, take responsibility for your part in the dance, learn what you need to learn – and go and be able to fish on your own from there.
If you have any questions about any of this, or live in or around Minneapolis, MN and are looking for marriage counseling, please don’t hesitate to contact me.