We had agreed, somewhere over Russia, (Day 6) that we would go to see a marriage counsellor, so in January I made appointments with two counsellors on the same evening. We joked (one of our greatest strengths is the ability to laugh at the unfunny in our lives) about how whilst other people might go on pub crawls we were going on a counselling crawl. It was a horrible evening.
We spent 60 minutes at each appointment talking through why we were sitting there. It was clear that we both had different hopes for the process. Although we were barely speaking to each other by the end of the evening we did agree on the counsellor that we would continue with. That in itself was a major achievement.
When we’d got married, even before we were married, we’d agreed that if we ever had problems we’d go to counselling. The trouble is that by the time you recognize you have problems, the relationship is so fractured and dysfunctional that spending time together discussing your dysfunction and concluding that things really are dire, is a less attractive option than eating your own eyes.
I won’t pretend that going to counselling was a great experience. It was repeatedly (weekly and then fortnightly over the next four months) painful. We drove home in silence after most appointments. Sometimes the silence lasted for a day or two as we both struggled to deal with all that had been raised by each session. On so many occasions it simply confirmed to us what we knew already – we were struggling to understand each other, and the best we had to give didn’t seem to be enough.
I rationalised however, that my I had to take part in the process, for my own sake. I needed to be able to say when (not if) the marriage ended, that I had done all I could to try to make it work. I thought I had done too much, and had gone too far. Like the title of the book I thought I might just be the ‘Worst. person. ever.’
What I didn’t expect was to find redemption.
On our first evening with the counsellor she asked us to list the major life changes we had experienced in the years that we had been married. She stopped us after a short while. She told us that most people reckon on being able to manage 2 or 3 without their relationship coming under severe strain. She had counted 8 to that point. We laughed as we hadn’t even reached the end of our list. She didn’t laugh. She told us it was amazing that we were even sitting on a couch together with a marriage counsellor.
We came away that evening with a new piece of information, a new angle on things.
There was no shame in being where we were – deeply unhappy and struggling to stay married. Life had thrown all kinds of curve balls at us in the preceding years and maybe nothing would have prevented us reaching this point.
Maybe there was a place for just accepting our situation and not looking for someone or something to blame. We didn’t have to be ‘bad’ to be as we were. This shifting of shame and blame made space for redemption.
Lights in the darkness.