Because I’m not acknowledging Friday until it happens, and I will acknowledge it on Saturday in Boston at one of 370 the sister marches across the country supporting the Women’s March on Washington, I am instead today writing about looking back.
This January marks the 6th anniversary of when I decided to stop a year of couples therapy and “take a break.” At the time, the 3 people in our family were seeing 4 therapists. I think the ratio for me and my ex was 3:1. We were getting individual therapy, couples therapy, and spending spend time with the kid’s therapist. The kid was getting off easy with just having to see one. Suffice to say, we were outnumbered, and on many days I felt outgunned. We were extraordinarily lucky that our insurance was paying for it all, and while I generally don’t have great things to say about health insurance companies, we were most certainly eating into their profit margins that year, and I did not get one nasty letter from them.
If you’ve ever been to therapy, you know it’s very time-consuming. The time spent in the office is just the beginning. It’s the hours of traveling to and from the appointment, the time spent processing all the damn therapy and doing whatever home work they assign you — hey, that 5 minutes sitting in the waiting room remembering what is was you were supposed to do for this session adds up over time. And don’t forget the hours when you sit on your bed and stare out the window, wrestling with the guilt that your kid is in therapy because of you, when you know for a fact that no other kids are in therapy because of their parents. It’s a wonder I had time for my job.
My then-husband and I had been in couples therapy once before when our son was around 2. Things improved for a while after that, but it didn’t stick. I should’ve known this second time wasn’t going to work either. We went back to the same therapist and while she remembered us, after a few sessions she confessed she couldn’t find the records from our previous time with her. And it wasn’t that she had purged her records. Oh, no, she had records from before us and after us, and where there should have our records, there was a big empty slot. I can’t think of a clearer signal from the universe, except maybe for that cartoon of the giant anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote.
I would even venture that the therapist was less than enthusiastic to see us, and many days she seemed kind of tired of us. Who could blame her? We were tired of us, too. We were also probably the most boring kind of couple for a therapist: no juicy infidelity, in-person or online, no meddling in-laws, no addiction issues to Pokemon Go or Netflix binging. Just plain old drifting apart and ineffective communication skills. We were actually highly skilled at being ineffective communicators, having honed it to a razor-sharp edge over 20 years. Yes, 20 years, so I find it amusing when divorce is described as a”failed marriage.” We were pretty good for about 8 years and had a great kid. Then things were rocky, and we decided to go to therapy round 1. That took about 3 years. Things got better for about 4 years and then they started the inevitable slide to the disconnection destination for 5 years. By my count that sounds a lot like life: some wins, some losses, and some what the hell are we doing here?
How many people even have friends for 20 years? Or a job? Or even piece of furniture? Do people call their couch that they are dragging out to the curb a “failed sit-upon”? Do people call a friendship that ends a failure? No, they probably say something like it “ran its course.” Hmmm. O, language, you tricky mistress. For the record, I have close friends who I’ve known for 20, 30, and even 40 years. So clearly I am a successful friend maker; it’s the marriage thing that mystified me.
So there I was armpit deep in personal therapy, couples therapy, and secondhand therapy from my son’s therapist. When it took my ex about 8 months before he could articulate what he was angry about, a vision of being in therapy for the rest of my life flashed before my eyes. That’s when I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. Of course I had to talk about it with my therapist first. When he suggested we take a break from couples therapy, my relief was so visceral, I nearly slid out of my chair. I was just so happy to have an open slot every other week, I forgot that “taking a break” pretty much means the same thing whether you’ve been dating for 5 months or married for 20 years. No one is fooled that it means something super good is coming after the “break.” Except me, but I was so overwhelmed with all the therapy, I didn’t think past that freed-up hour. My ex understood better than I did, and of course asked the inevitable question, “For how long?” In my head I said, “Forever. Is forever good for you?” Then I knew I was truly done with everything.
Six years later, and despite the election, I am currently therapy free (we’ll see how long that lasts), I have a great life, a great kid, my ex and I work pretty well together on his behalf, and we respect the separated lives we’ve created.
So go ahead and call it a failed marriage if you need to. I’ll say it ran its course, and maybe we can agree that I had a very successful divorce.