“If we ever find ourselves saying we need to go to therapy, we just need to walk away. Couples in healthy marriages don’t need therapy.”
I wrote this in a journal the night I realized my marriage was falling apart. I had learned some ugly truths and insisted that my then-husband accompany me to therapy. He at first refused, and I found myself begging him to give it a try, to give our marriage and our family a fighting chance.
There was a time when I truly believed that partners should be able to work everything out on their own. I believed that therapy was a hopeless last resort, a last ditch effort so you could say you tried. I believed that if you were at the point that you needed therapy to fix your marriage, you were too far gone. If you really loved each other, if you truly wanted to make it work, you would find a way. I had honestly never considered that sometimes people just need helping finding a way to make it work. You can know what you want, but if you don’t know how to get there, you’re not going to have much success. As my divorce humbled me and I opened up to my friends, I learned that many of my friends and their spouses had at one point or another gone to couples therapy, and it saved many of their marriages. When two people want to make it work, marriage counseling can be a godsend.
Still not convinced it would help but desperate to save my marriage and protect my girls from being children of divorce, I scheduled an appointment with a therapist whose patients are primarily individuals dealing with anxiety or couples working on their relationships. When my then-husband and I walked in to that first therapy session, the counselor listened to us for a few minutes before saying, “I’m not here to save your marriage. I’m here to help you decide if there’s anything worth saving.” Then he looked at me and, already sensing that I struggled with something beyond my crumbling marriage, said, “And regardless of the outcome of this between the two of you, I would like to keep seeing you so we can work on your anxiety.” My first thought was that exposing and admitting my anxiety was just going to add fuel to the fire with my then husband, and that terrified me. I now recognize that moment as the first time a professional acknowledged the thing that had been haunting me for years.
During that first session, our counselor stated that he sensed my then-husband was already seventy-five percent gone. It took less than three weeks for that seventy-five percent to change to one hundred percent. Two days after we decided to end our marriage, I went to our scheduled therapy session alone. When the counselor asked if we should wait for my then-husband, I burst into tears and told him that it was too late, that he had moved and I had already filed for divorce. I cried tears of fear and loneliness, and I remember expressing my feelings of hopelessness. I was obsessing over everything that had gone wrong, and I was doubting everything I had done in our marriage.
Towards the end of the session, my counselor said something that I have carried with me since, something that even my young children now say when frustrated. “I can control myself. I can control right now. I can’t control others, I can’t control the past, and I can’t control the future.” I began sobbing uncontrollably when he said that to me, and I truly felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. While therapy hadn’t saved my marriage, I realized in that moment that it was going to save me.
I spent the next six months going to weekly therapy sessions. Sometimes we focused on my marriage and the divorce proceedings. Sometimes we talked about the struggles my girls were having with adjusting to their new normal. Sometimes we discussed my dad’s cancer diagnosis. Other times, we celebrated the small successes in my life.
I always left those sessions with a sense of relief and newfound hope for what the future would hold for me and the girls, and I also learned to release some of the guilt I’d been carrying. There were a few times when my counselor said something incredibly simple yet life changing, like the statement about what I can and cannot control. Over a year and a half later, I still repeat some of those lessons to myself daily.
For the days when I lie awake at night and worry about giving my girls all they need: I am a good mom.
For the days when I feel guilty about my girls being “children of divorce”: My children are not victims. They have two parents who love them very much and who work hard to always put their needs first.
For the early days when I wanted to mope and pout about it all and cry, “I can’t believe this is how my life has turned out!”: This isn’t how my life has turned out. It’s just a crummy thing that happened. It does not define me.
For the days when I think of wishing away the years my ex and I spent together: My marriage didn’t fail. It resulted in two amazing children and in a lifetime of lessons. It forced me to leave my comfort zone and to find my own happiness. It brought me to the amazing place I am in today.
For the days when I wondered if I would ever find love again: I am worthy of love…of giving love and of receiving love.
For the days when I want to settle for being “good enough” at what I do: I owe it to the amazing people in my life to be the best version of myself that I can be. If I want to have happy and positive people in my life, I need to be happy and positive.
And speaking of being happy: I am responsible for my own happiness.
A year and a half later, I’ve graduated from weekly sessions to being seen on an “as needed” basis at my counselor’s office. At first, that meant calling when something went wrong. When my ex and I were fighting and struggling with our coparenting arrangement, I scheduled an appointment. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I scheduled an appointment. When my oldest was struggling to control her emotions at school, I scheduled an appointment. When I had a health scare, I scheduled an appointment. But then I started making appointments when things were going well. When I was offered an amazing new job, I scheduled an appointment. When I met and starting dating my incredible boyfriend, I scheduled an appointment. When my oldest’s teacher emailed me about the social and emotional growth she has seen in her this year, I scheduled an appointment.
I now believe in maintenance therapy. I jokingly say that everyone could use a dose of therapy from time to time. But you know what? I’m not actually joking. The tools I’ve gained in therapy have truly been invaluable. I am a better mother, a better daughter and sister, a better friend, and a better partner because of therapy. Therapy couldn’t save my marriage, but it saved me.
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