We just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary. I’m not sure any couple stays married long without some help. Help from family or friends, the support of the community or the church. There’s also many, many individuals and things that hurt and destroy marriages. So I’d like to thank a very good doctor in Kansas City for saving my marriage a while back, and continuing to save it a few times since then.
My husband and I were an unlikely match of opposites. What few things we hold in common aren’t exactly useful glue for sticking together: we’re both opinionated, independent, sensitive. I’m logical about most things in life except for him, and he has a gift for reading everyone around him except his wife. We married young, still in college, and had terrible communication skills. And after 7 or 8 years, we were tired of fighting and being misunderstood. We loved each other and hated each other in the same breath.
That’s how we met Dr. H, a marriage therapist with a cozy office and a kind smile. He seemed old and wise and I hoped he would be good for us. [As a side note, marriage therapy has only been practiced since the 1970’s, so it’s a newer field of counseling therapy.] I vividly remember the first question he asked us: Do you want to stay married? It was a shocking thing for me, to hear it put into such simple terms. But maybe it’s really that simple. If both partners want to stay married, then stay married they can. I think about that from time to time.
Not all marriage therapists are effective and competant like Dr. H. We got lucky on the first try with him. And I highly recommend marriage therapy for couples, with the one caveat that the therapist should be a trained, certified therapist that you can relate to well. Just like selecting a good medical doctor. Don’t put your marriage in the hands of someone who only took Intro to Therapy. Don’t bring your parents into your business. A trusted older married couple you respect can often help with the little things, but for something major, call in the professional.
Dr. H was really good at diagnosing issues and teaching us better ways to communicate with each other and how to solve problems we hadn’t tackled before. Like the checkbook. There was an entire session on money management. Another on household chores. It was such a relief to figure out how to divide up household responsibilities that played to individual strengths and gave us flexibility and space. Anyway, there was a long list to be worked on, it would have been better to have gone earlier so the crap didn’t pile up so high. But at the end we understood and appreciated each other, and were at peace. We LIKED each other again.
Most importantly, Dr. H taught us the value of remembering why we love each other. There was an exercise he had us do at the beginning and the end of our therapy. At the beginning we each made a private list of all the reasons we fell in love and married. At the end he gave us back the lists and we added to them the reasons we wanted to stay married and took them home. From time to time, when one of us feels the need, we revisit our lists. I can tell when my husband has peeked at his list. He seeks out time with me. He complements my character and performs extra acts of kindness to make my life easier. He holds me more passionately.
So thank you to Dr. H., for helping us save our marriage back then. For teaching us tools to communicate and compromise. And most especially for the lists of thankfulness, of counted blessings. Marriage is still a difficult thing to navigate each day, each month, each year. But for a long while now, we’ve counted the blessings and found the lists are longer than whatever the current trouble might be.
Musical pairing: “You’ve Got It” by Simply Red, 1990 and “Talk To Me” by The Outfield, 1985