I remain slightly cynical of couple’s counseling. Which is surprising when you consider half my marriage was spent soaking in its waters; but for the life of me I can’t think of a single nugget of wisdom derived from all those hours on the couch. I’m not entirely hostile to this form of therapy, I’m sure many marriages have been saved through its intervention, I just don’t know of one. And I believe the primary reason for this is by the time most couples get around to seeking help the damage has already been irreversibly done.
Like the overwhelming majority of men, when my ex first suggested we get our own help, I nixed the thought of another sniffing our dirty laundry. I was a management major and had completed our company’s management training program, ergo I was rigorously prepared to fix any problem and especially that of a trifling marital concern. I certainly didn’t need a ‘professional’, for a fee mind you, doing so on our behalf.
I think you can accurately predict the outcome of any therapy session by the mood with which the patient arrives to the appointment. Like a child kicking and screaming on the first day of kindergarten, I had convinced myself this was going to be the longest hour of my life and a ghastly impediment to the enjoyment of my future Sunday afternoons. Considering the final outcome it’s hard to argue with my prophecy.
Of my several gripes the biggest has to do with the competitiveness innate in couple’s therapy. Yet this isn’t altogether surprising, after all two people who often would rather murder each other are in many ways attempting to demonstrate their marital righteousness like two attorney’s standing in front of a judge and jury hoping verdict is rendered in their favor. If she can get the therapist rallying to her cause she can finally prove that he is a jerk for leaving the toilet seat up and as such is guilty for their marriage falling apart.
I experienced this firsthand at our initial session. As she and I took turns presenting our laundry list of reasons why the marriage sucked and putting all the blame at the feet of each other we soon realized that if one was going to gain an upper hand drastic measures must be taken. In so doing, we availed ourselves of the two words that when blended produce the elixir of death for virtually any relationship.
Most of us blindly underestimate the power of our words. Words can miraculously uplift or they can utterly destroy and like Pandora’s box are impossible to return once set free. A relationship begins with mere words, ‘hi’, ‘would you like to go out for coffee?’, and they end in much the same way ‘I never want to see you again, ‘Why did I marry you?’.
Relationships will live – and they will die – by what we say.
After I met the Queen and knew we had the potential for something special, I made a solemn promise to myself that was unlike anything I had ever pledged in relationships before. It was a vow I knew if broken would signal the death knell for our future, though less earth shattering than other pledges it proved to be all the more honorable. I made the decision early on to avoid using those two words I had employed so many Sunday afternoons on that couch. Two words I knew from experience were like match and kindling capable of setting ablaze any relationship. By themselves they are inconsequential, but when said in conjunction they resonate with deathly venom and a deep seeded maliciousness.
The first – you – is designed to separate, single out, and take aim. In the context of a relationship, the word takes the notion of unity and togetherness and tosses it on its head. Used to indict, the word demands walls be erected, defenses be readied, and sides be taken; it draws a line and digs a wide chasm between the couple.
The second word – never – is absolute and biased and says scores are being taken and wrongdoings are always tallied. It sends the message that grace isn’t free and forgiveness isn’t cheap. Use of the word suddenly makes the relationship conditional placing on it qualifiers where before there were none.
When used in tandem with any form of relationship faux pas such as, “you never talk to me”, “you never want sex”, “you never satisfy my needs”, the words serve to draw comparisons while showing insensitivity, selfishness, and a reluctance to see the others point of view. Everything a relationship needs to fail.
There were countless Sunday’s in that therapist’s office where she and I attempted to justify our sentiment by condemning the other for what we perceived as each’s greatest shortcomings. But in the end such brazen criticism only proved to further alienate one another and drive us farther away from any desire to make things work. It’s through those experiences that I can now tell the path a relationship is likely on by how they find fault with each other. When the condemnation only centers on the extremes, it’s a strong signal that person is or has closed himself off to even a possibility for the other to change. If all I can concentrate on is what the Queen doesn’t, how can I ever begin to appreciate what she does?
By eliminating those two words from our relationship vocabulary, we are left no choice but to reconsider our initial approach and tackle the issue at hand from a far more inclusive point of reference. By eliminating you we acknowledge some amount of responsibility and getting rid of never erases any perceived prejudice.
After all these years, I’m convinced it’s one of the simplest yet most effective ways to improve communication between couples. When our words are spoken from a place of peace and surrender instead of attack and counter attack we quickly discover we are listened to more intently and understood more respectfully. And as far as I’m concerned those are never bad things.