One woman shares her experience with therapy and a saved marriage.
I thought I was going to go crazy. I hated my husband Michael, I hated his voice, I hated his walk, I hated his smell and I hated the way he chewed his food. Everything Michael did was repulsive. Michael lost his job soon after the recession started, and that's when I lost interest in sex.
He was earning a good living as a manager of a major department store. We both thought he had job security, as over the years he moved up in the company to an executive position. The company paid for our health insurance, provided a 401K, and gave us a 3 week paid vacation. In addition to his yearly salary, we enjoyed the bonus he received every year as the store's earning increased yearly, and Michael took home a nice chunk of change. The money was appropriated for a vacation and some of it for house improvements and new clothes for the boys. In a few months, seven, to be exact, Michael lost his job, his bonus that we had already appropriated for our yearly family vacation, and we were about to lose all our health benefits. Two years ago we took out a home equity loan to begin the addition onto the house, and this year we were building a swimming pool.
All our hopes, wishes, and dreams were shattered due to the economic crisis. We were the victims of something we never saw coming. My job was still intact. I was a teacher; however, in order to compensate for Michael's loss of income, I had to take a second job teaching Pilates three evenings a week at a fitness center. Michael became depressed, and his depression infiltrated our relationship. It felt like a malignancy that was gripping us. I became angry, and my anger exacerbated his depression and impacted our marriage. We were a mess!
My best friend, Phyllis, a therapist, coached me into counseling. She suggested someone she thought could be helpful and who would understand my feelings. Phyllis felt a professional was exactly what I needed, and she couldn't counsel me due to our friendship. Thank God for girlfriends! I made an appointment, and with more reluctance than hope, I followed through and went to my first session. I didn't know what to expect. The problem seemed so obvious to me that paying money for professional help was irrational and not necessary, especially during these critical times, and no health insurance to reimburse my costs. Even with health insurance, there had never been any mental health benefits. Anyone with half a brain could figure out why I was so angry. Not so. Being clueless to the therapeutic process, I thought after he heard my lamenting over our economic crisis, he would say something like, "Save your money, use it to pay down your credit card debt and as soon as Michael finds a job, you will be back to normal." It was nothing like that. That was the furthest thing from what he presented to me.
Sam, my therapist, asked me some questions about myself, my parents, siblings, school, etc. I suppose that's what they all do on the first session; gather information. Then towards the end of that session he asked what I wanted to achieve from the therapy. "To get my sexy self back in this marriage and feel good about Michael," I responded without hesitation.
"Good. That's a positive goal. It's going to take some time and patience, but in the end, the results will be worth it."
In the second session, Sam explored some more of my history. When he asked about the relationship between my parents and how they resolved conflicts, I went back to the same old movie. I heard my mother's hostile words charging across to my father, who stayed silent until he could no longer bear her shrills. Although I had forgotten most of the content, I couldn't forget her face squinting up, revealing her scowl lines between her eyes, and ropes emerging from her neck. In that moment I disappeared and morphed into a little girl feeling helpless and scared. I never really understood why she was angry, except that seemed to be her general state as I gazed back through the rear view mirror in my mind.
"My mother was always angry," I said in almost a whisper. "Dad had lost his job. I don't remember why. It was something about a merger, now that I'm thinking about it. I remember he was out of work for a long time after the company he worked for merged with a company that bought them out. My father had been with them since before I was born. Then without warning, his job was gone, probably replaced by the new company's staff."
I went silent for a few moments. I stared into the past. Sam said nothing. He just looked at me as if there was a moment of insight between us. Then I remembered my grandmother, (my mother's mother) telling me how bad it was when she was married. They went through the Great Depression and had to stand in long lines just to buy bread. She told me stories about the depression that made me feel so sorry for them and so scared that it might happen again. If felt like the movie in my head was giving me hints as to why I was so bitter towards Michael. My unconscious fear had become my rage. It all came to a crashing epiphany. I had carried that nightmare for two generations holding on to both my mother's and my grandmother's history shrouded in fear, anger, and despair. When Michael lost his job, it triggered my fear and all my family's history was brought into my present relationship. Michael was the recipient of the collective unconscious of my mother and my grandmother's history. That was just the beginning of my treatment. Now he had to help me heal those wounds of childhood.
Sam used many different techniques in treatment that allowed me to confront my history and how I felt when I was little and too helpless and innocent to fully understand what was going on. I was only a container for the feelings I heard expressed. Sam had to somehow desensitize my past to liberate my present. His tools were designed more for transpersonal work by going into my feelings, leaving the cognitive stuff for later. He used methods that were foreign to my friends who had been in therapy. He called it experiential psychotherapy. I didn't care what he called it, only that it helped me.
In a few months I noticed my behavior changing towards Michael, and I felt the tension leaving my body like a ghost. The knot that was living inside my gut left with it. I felt that I had broken the ties with my past and could be free to live my own life. When I looked at Michael, I saw the man I married; not my father or grandfather who so vehemently disappointed my mother and grandmother. I became un-enmeshed from my history. I could now be more patient and supportive to Michael while he was going though this rough patch.
With the therapy and giving back the shame to the people who gave it to me, I learned to accept my situation and trust that Michael would work again, and our family would be okay. I learned that life can sometimes throw some curve balls. So we have to be ready when they start flying out of left field. But you can't get to second base if you have one foot on first.
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