The Strange Reason I Wouldn't Listen To My Marriage Counselor

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woman talking to counselor

For that hour I was all in. I listened to every word my marriage counselor uttered. I hear you. I’m a pleaser and a fixer. I lack boundaries and the instinct to self-protect. I’m an enabler  an overly caring person who tolerates repeatedly bad behavior. Got it. 

And then I would walk out that door and revert to who I had been my whole life. 

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I respected my marriage counselor. And it was a relief to vent and have my feelings validated.

Still, in the beginning, it wasn’t easy to hear my emotional truth. But eventually, I shifted from feeling victimized and blaming my husband to wanting to work on myself.

It was the better choice. The prior was filled with anger and bitterness. The latter with hope and possibilities. I could learn from my mistakes. I could give my children a chance at healthier relationships. 

It’s amazing I was receptive to counseling but unable to stop my own patterns.

It wasn’t for lack of desire. It was innate almost unconscious behavior. I

would slip back into the very things my counselor educated me about. My husband was behaving badly and he is who he is. But a good counselor teaches you about yourself. If not, you won’t grow and you may not heal from your relationship experience. 

Bitterness can’t be the ultimate destination.

It wasn’t strictly love that made me refuse to give up on my husband.

It was my own personality. At some point, it became more about Colleen. Colleen can fix this. Colleen believes in the impossible. Colleen doesn’t give up. Colleen is tenacious. Colleen never met a problem she couldn’t solve. Colleen wouldn’t give up — even when I should have.

It’s a liberating and disappointing epiphany. 

It means I should have left sooner for my emotional well-being and for my children.

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There’s something about the infrastructure we call family that makes us believe it’s noble to fight for. Even when there’s no safety left within it. Even when we know we should go because it’s a relationship that isn’t fixable or healthy. 

My husband wasn’t willing to work on himself and I prolonged our marriage.

By this time, I was in marriage counseling for one.

My own personal oxymoron. 

My husband refused to continue in counseling after eight months. He didn’t enjoy learning about himself.

It wasn’t long after the therapist looked at us and told my husband he lacked empathy.

And then turned to me and said you’re not just an enabler, you are a major, major enabler. My husband’s interpretation? Why go back when he was told he was a jerk and I was told I was caring.

That’s not how it happened, it was his perception.

I said there’s nothing healthy about being an enabler, either, but he wouldn’t return. I made the decision to continue by myself. I wanted to increase my children’s chances of having better relationships.

I once laughed and asked my counselor if I frustrated him.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I come here and I listen to you, respect you, and am eager for change but I keep repeating the same mistakes and I can’t bring myself to leave him,” I said.

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He smiled and said, “Colleen, your husband keeps showing you who he is only you don’t want to believe him.”

Personally, I think my marriage counselor has the patience of a saint. But I know I’m not the exception.

The personal growth of relationships is a Yin and yang. We crave resolution, forward momentum, and change, but our own personalities and inability to surrender get in our way.

I listened for that hour and then left. 

The enabler would fail to enact those boundaries and self-protect. I would put up with the same behavior I swore I would never tolerate again. I would give my husband chance after chance as I had always done. I would continue to see the best in him, thinking he would change when I was actually willing to but couldn't.

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It’s taken years of growth to stop those old patterns. And they can still bust through occasionally to wave and say remember me? 

Colleen Sheehy Orme is a national relationship columnist, journalist & former business columnist. She covers love, life, & relationships.