"We've Met the Enemy and He is Us."
To Don, seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness; an endeavor reserved for “crazy people.” Therefore, Don has never seen a therapist. Never thought he would. Yet here he is. Feeling like a teen having to tell dad he dented the car, he enters a therapist’s office for the first time in his life. He nervously makes a joke about which couch he should lay down on and refers to the therapist as “doc.” He’s really anxious. He tells himself to be strong and never admit being “nervous.”
Janet is an experienced client. She has seen a number of therapists over the years of her marriage. Who wouldn’t, she thinks, feel like they’re losing their mind having to deal with a mope like her husband? After years of asking Don to go to therapy with her and his repeated refusals, here she is, finally, in a therapist’s office with Don. It’s too bad, she says to herself, that she had to make an ultimatum: “You come with me or I’ll file for divorce.” But she puts the thought of divorce aside because she really doesn’t want a divorce. “At least he’s here” she whispers inaudibly.
Don sits looking like a 7th grader on a bench in the principal’s office after putting the class goldfish down the back of little Jennifer’s blouse. He is convinced he’s out numbered in the room. Don knows that Janet knows how to do this “therapy stuff.” He fears he will quickly be identified as the “problem.” He readies himself. He’s going to defend his entitlement to say, as the mariner/philosopher Popeye once put it, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”
For Janet’s part, she attempts to tamp down the hope she feels by sitting in the room with her husband. She quells that hope because, well, she’s been disappointed before. She’s heard the promises before only to for those promises not to be kept. She’s angry. More than that, she’s hurt and afraid. Hurt that the relationship that started out as a love story has come to this. Afraid that this won’t work. So she sits morphing her hope into expectation. Expectation that the therapist will set Don straight and make him love her in the ways she longs to be loved.
Don and Janet are about to be disappointed with therapy. And if they aren't careful, they might even draw the conclusion that couples therapy doesn't work. You see Don’s fear of being labeled “the problem” will most likely not be realized. As for Janet, her hope that an “expert” will set her husband straight will not be realized either. Why? Because they agree. They both agree that Don, in some way, is the problem. He’s not. Don is part of the problem. Just as Janet is part of the problem. In other words, they are both 100% right and both 100% wrong. However, it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about doing what is necessary to see themselves and each other truthfully.
Don apparently has grown more and more defensive over the years perhaps due in part to his belief that men must always be strong. No matter what. No matter at what cost. For her part, Janet has come to express herself and her needs to therapists over time but not to her husband. For good reason. As time went on, and she kept facing Don’s “strong man” persona, she came to feel less and less like she mattered to Don. The more she tried, the more some part of Don knew he was disappointing her. And the more he felt he was disappointing her, the more defensive he became. He did not know what to do. The more defensive Don became. the more alone in her marriage Janet came to be. Eventually, each came to feel trapped by the other. Don by Janet’s appeals for more, more, something. Janet by Don’s defensiveness and withdrawal.
As they both sit in their therapist’s office for the first time together, Don and Janet have a choice. Finally. They have a choice about how they see themselves and each other. It won’t be easy. In fact therapy will, at times, feel a little like they are trying to push a boulder up a sand dune. And that’s if they are both committed to making a change in their marriage. And committed to making the personal changes required of them to begin to co-create their relationship. What they need most at the outset is to understand that very often what we see as the problem, is not the problem we wind up solving.