Couples Counseling: Making Progress

Mi.Vida and I had couples counseling this weekend and I forgot to write about it. I really want to document our couples counseling experience because I think it could be useful to others dealing with difficult moments in their relationships and because I want to be able to look back and see how much we’ve done and how far we’ve come.

At counseling this week we touched on the following:

– Mi.Vida admitted that he has issues to work through, namely his intense anxiety surrounding conflict. Basically he is hypersensitive to conflict and wants to avoid it at all costs. This is making confronting his boss about his raise very difficult for him.

– Mi.Vida recognized that he needs to carve time for himself and the things he wants/needs to get done, like looking for a job.

– I noticed that I struggle focusing on “our” time if we haven’t planned to do something earlier. Last week, when we planned to watch a movie I was able to put my phone and computer away and snuggle with Mi.Vida on the couch, enjoying the film. This week on Saturday, after Mi.Vida came home from seeing friends, we both mucked about on our computers for most of the night, not really doing anything and then lamented the fact that we hadn’t taken better advantage of our time.

– I also admitted that I would appreciate more planned family activities during the weekend because I’m sick of just tooling around the neighborhood when I’ve been doing that all week. I also think we need to practice parenting together because I notice lots of moments of tension when we each want to handle a situation differently. We solo parent a lot, giving each other breaks and time to get things done, and when we parent together we’re not as smooth as we could be or as we’ll need to be to deal with Isa as she gets older and more cognizant of what’s going on.

– Mi.Vida’s homework is to start planning what he’s going to say to his boss, line by line.

– Our homework is to spend at least one hour a week having structured together time (as in not just together in the same room on our computers).

All in all I am very pleased with all we’ve accomplished in couples counseling so far. I truly believe it has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better. I shudder to think where we’d be without it.

Two steps forward…

This Tuesday Mi.Vida’s colleagues were informed of his promotion. In the New Year he will become the managing attorney at his non-profit. He’s known about the promotion for almost two months and while he was told it would include a substantial raise, he was never given an exact number. This was great news for us because our financial plan for a second child required $10,000 more a year from each of us. I figured I could make my$10K tutoring and giving private classes in the evenings. Mi.Vida’s $10K was going to come from his raise.

This Friday Mi.Vida was finally given an offer letter. His raise was substantial alright-substantially smaller than he had expected. All the plans we’d spent three months in therapy working towards seemed to be unraveling before our eyes. It was a difficult afternoon.

In the hours after I heard of the raise debacle I felt a number of things, primarily anger, frustration, despair and panic. I wanted Mi.Vida to march in there and demand an explanation. I wanted him to say that he would have to leave because (a) the compensation was not adequate for the amount of work he’d be doing and (b) he couldn’t support his family on the salary they were proposing. I wanted resolution and I wanted it now.

Of course even if Mi.Vida didn’t avoid conflict like the plague, he would never had done any of that. That isn’t his style and it’s probably for the best. I can’t imagine my plan would have produced the desired result anyway.

The next 24 hours were difficult for me. I lamented the fact that our plan was basically ruined, as it hinged on money that we falsely believed we’d be earneing. I feared the conflicts this would create, as Mi.Vida handled the disappointing raise, and eventually finding another job, in ways I didn’t understand or endorse. But really, the thing I was most upset about was the uncertainty. I was so looking forward to knowing what at least one large part of the next couple of years would look like; now yet another piece of our future was completely unknown.

Turns out uncertainty stokes my anxiety big time.

Once I was able to articulate that realization I felt better. Just knowing that the uncertainty was what bothered me most made all of it more manageable. I no longer felt overwhelmed by all of it.

On Saturday I initiated sex with Mi.Vida during Isa’s nap. Our joint “homework” from our couples counselor was to spend 30-60 minutes a week doing something we both enjoyed and to have sex once a week, whether we “wanted to” or not (you can imagine who that last bit was aimed at). We’d barely fit our first sexual encounter in the week before and I was determined to get the second one done as well (I’ve always been a straight student and I NEVER turn my homework in late). Initiating sex on Saturday felt like checking a task off my to do list but in the end I was so glad we did it. It’s true that being intimate can help kindle a connection between two people, even if one (or both) lacks the urge to do it.

On Saturday night I went to my staff party and told Mi.Vida to spend the evening with his friends. While I carve out time to meet with my girl friend he almost never takes the same initiative. I knew he wouldn’t mind going to my staff party but I also guessed he’d prefer to take advantage of “guy time” so I pushed him to do that. We both ended up enjoying the evening immensely and were happier to see each other the next morning than we might have been had we forced a shared experience.

On Sunday we went to couples counseling. Mi.Vida’s homework was to agree to the time line I’d proposed at the last meeting. I was sure that the new financial uncertainties would determine his decision but they didn’t, or at least not in the way I expected. He felt we were doing much better emotionally and that the financial piece would fall into place. He not only agreed that we could start trying in June of next year, but conceded that we could even begin earlier if things continued in a positive direction. I couldn’t believe it.

The rest of the day Mi.Vida spoke with sparks of excitement about finding something new. As a someone who’s never been a self started he believes this raise debacle might be just the kick in the pants he needs to make a move to something new and hopefully better. And while I’m still anxious about the uncertainty involved, I feel more hopeful about the eventual outcome than I did about the original (assumed) raise.

Two weeks ago I was wondering if the time, effort and money we’d been spending at couples counseling was worth it. While some days were obviously better, there was a lot of that “two steps forward, one step back” sentiment. I doubted any real progress would ever be made. It seems, though, that it has. I see it in the disagreements we have that don’t ruin our time later together, even if the issues haven’t been resolved. I glimpse it in the renewed support we show each other at home every night. I recognize it in the way we handled the bad news this weekend, in the honesty and acceptance present in our discussions about the future.

It’s true that we’ve been taking two steps forward, one step back. I’ve been so focused on the back steps that I forgot one simple truth – the final sum of that equation is still one step forward. It may take a long time to get anywhere when you’re making a go of it one step at a time, but you will eventually get there. And it seems, slowly but surely, that we are.

Not Measuring Up

Today I f-ed up really bad. Like spectacularly bad. Let me set the stage for you.

My sister comes at 6:45, just like we’d planned, to watch Isa until my in-laws come and get her. I leave for work at 7am, a little later than I wanted but I’ll still make it with plenty of time. There is no rain for the first day in almost a week and the freeways are surprisingly clear. I’m making great time and am listing all the things I’ll get done in the twenty minutes I have before class starts.

Then my phone ring. It’s the mom of the girl I drive to school some days. But why would she be calling me?

I think you can probably guess where this is going.

Cue expletives. Cue apologizing profusely. Cue exiting and heading back north.

We ended up meeting at an exit half way between her house and where I was when I’d gotten the call. Luckily we didn’t hit too much traffic until we were off the freeway and we (just barely) made it to our first classes on time.

The poor girl, who evidently has a lot of anxiety about arriving to school late, wouldn’t speak one word to me in the car. I apologized a dozen times but she never answered me. And fair enough.

I spent the entire car ride trying not to cry openly and stealthily wiping tears away from under my glasses.

Later, at school, the secretary called my room to ask if I’d remembered to bring snack for the staff room. I think you can guess where this is going. I’ll be bringing bagels and cream cheese to school on Monday to make amends.

Now I know that people make mistakes. I know people forget things. But you have to understand, I live my life enveloped in a thin fog of anxiety, constantly worried that I’m forgetting something very important and have no idea. When it actually happens, like today (or the time I realized my car insurance renewals weren’t sent to me and so I’d been driving without coverage for almost a month) my confidence in myself is absolutely shattered. It will takes months for me to build it up again. In the meantime I’ll be constantly semi-panicked that I’m unwittingly neglecting someone or something in my life, to the detriment of myself, my family or people I care about.

In the meantime I will be relying on my phone, and an extensive system of calendar notes and alarms, to ensure that I don’t forget to pick that poor girl up again.

Speaking of neglecting someone in my life, it seems I’m deeply entrenched in my tri-annual I’m-missing-out-on-my-daughter’s-childhood-freak-out. Last night at dinner, as my father-in-law related all the amazing things Isa is learning and how she’s fundamentally different each and every time she comes over, I suddenly realized that he probably knows her better than I do right now. He spends 25 of her waking hours a week with her while only spend 15 plus the 15 waking hours of the weekend (my daughter sleeps a lot, evidently).

And he’s right, she is changing so fast. By the time summer comes, and I get my two months with her, she’ll be a completely different person and I will have missed more than half of the second year of her life. It’s making me cry just to type that. I wish so badly I could be with her every day. My heart aches to leave her every morning. I thought working part time I’d get more time with her but she takes these insanely long naps in the afternoons and while that is helpful for me to get grading and chores around the house done, it’s not great for me seeing my daughter. Sometimes being a WOHM just guts me. This is one of those times.

The reality is, it’s my fault I can’t be with her. If I had taken better care of my money. If I had chosen a different career, maybe I could be home with her right now. But I didn’t and I can’t. There are so many aspects of myself that disappoint me right now. I’m unimpressed with how poorly I handled being a “single mom” for five short days. I’m crap at keeping our house in decent shape. I can’t/refuse to cook. I’m barely getting by as a teacher, creating lesson plans on the spot and taking weeks to grade papers. My relationships is flailing (though things on that front do, finally, look better). I struggle with juggling my family and job responsibilities. I feel like in every area of my life I’m falling short. I look around and see other people surviving, even thriving, in much more difficult situations and yet I can barely function in what is really not that difficult of a position. I’m completely forgetting about commitments I made to people for christ’s sake! Evidently I’m not even trustworthy anymore. Do you know how that makes me feel?

So yeah. I’m feeling pretty ashamed of myself today. Maybe it’s CD1 hormones ravaging my body and mind. Maybe it’s missing my man (god do I miss him). Maybe it’s mourning my friend’s father. Maybe it’s just general fatigue, wearing me down. Maybe it’s missing out on yoga all this week. Maybe it’s just that I’m not measuring up. I don’t know.

Before I go I wanted to thank everyone for their helpful advice on yesterday’s post. Hearing all your view points really helped me get a better sense of what I should do. Obviously today’s fiasco has shaken me and I’m not sure what my final decision will be. Right now I have a “phone interview” on Monday and then they’ll send me an article to copy edit. I’m going to see how I like doing that and if I feel good at it. Then I’ll have a long talk about all of this with Mi.Vida and we can decide what works best for us. Who knows, maybe the choice will be made for me when they don’t actually offer me the position. Until I know it’s actually my decision to make, I’m not going to stress too much about it.

On the Same Page?

Last night I sat my man down and told him exactly how I feel about TTC#2. The problem is I’m not even sure how I feel. So I laid it all out and explained how uncertain and unsure all of it felt.

Basically, this is what I said:

– There is a part of me, the part I believe is driven by my biological imperative, that wants to have a baby right her and right now, come hell or high water. This voice is oscillates between a loud shouting and a quiet whisper and is fairly persistant, though frequently drowned out by the day to day.

– Another part of me, the part I believe is driven by my perpetual state of anxiety, is well, anxious. I’m worried about all the uncertainty, the myriad “what if”s? I’m scared it will take a long time to get pregnant, I’m terrified we’ll suffer another a loss (or God forbid multiple losses or a still birth). I’m worried that TTC#2 will be road we’re struggling down for years. I don’t know if I can handle that.

– Another cause of (considerable) anxiety is that a second child will be the nail in our relationship’s coffin. The way I see it – worst worst case scenario: a second child before we’re both ready would be the end of our relationship. Best worst case scenario: we’re totally miserable for one or two years and it takes another one or two for us to recover.

– Of course our financial ability (or better said, inability) to have another child is also a huge reason to put this whole TTC#2 business on hold, big time.

I said all of this very calmly; even I was impressed with how collected I was during my whole spiel. The fact is I’m feeling pretty calm about the whole thing, despite my oscillating thoughts and feelings about it. I think I’m realizing that there is no best answer, that every approach has considerable positives and negatives and we’re just going to have to make a decision and hope for the best.

The surprising part of all of this is not my new found understanding but Mi.Vida’s response to it. Turns out Mi.Vida is similarly conflicted by all of this. I assumed he thought waiting was the obviously more appropriate choice. In reality, Mi.Vida sees positives to jumping into TTC#2 sooner rather than later too. For one, he isn’t so interested in stretching the baby/toddler years out so that they span the better part of a decade; he would rather the babyhood of the second baby overlap with the toddlerhood of the our darling daughter, thus shortening the overall span. He also likes the idea of our children being closer in age so that they can more easily and appropriately play together (or course being close in age doesn’t guarantee friendship but might make it more plausible). He also mentioned being worried that it might take a while and/or that we might experience more loss, which I really appreciated.

Of course he’s terrified of the financial implication of two children, especially since we’ve determined he’s the one responsible for making more money. He also shares my trepidation surrounding how a second child might test the mettle of our relationship. This past year does seem to suggest that we might be found lacking.

So where does all of this leave us? As you know, I need to have some sort of plan so currently what we’re doing is this: In January we will start our first ever stint of “not trying but not not trying”. We originally planned that for right now but I eventually conceded I would be unable to have unprotected sex without secretly (or even subconsciously) trying to get pregnant. Now, I fully believe that I can, in fact, do that. So in January we’ll throw out the condoms and see if any of our bedroom antics have (somewhat) unintended affects. During this time we’ll also be working to increase our fertility, eating less processed foods, taking supplements, and keeping hot computers off our junk – you know, that kind of thing. Then later, maybe three months, maybe six, we’ll start going at it for realsies.

So yeah, that is our plan, and I feel strangely at peace with it. I know it’s not perfect but I realize now no option is. I feel this plan is the best mix of caution and courage that we can muster right now.

I hope I’m right.

Confessional Fridays: In Three Parts

1.

Mi.Vida and I are going away (without Fussington J. Bear) for the weekend and I must confess, I’m excited. While I have no idea what being away from my daughter for 2.5 days will be like (we’ve never been apart for more than several hours), I KNOW that Mi.Vida and I need this very much. So many things have been clawing at us recently, pulling us away from ourselves and each other. We need some quality time to find ourselves again and to nurture our bruised and battered partnership. I hope this weekend provides the salve our relationship so dearly needs.

2.

Turns out I’m kind of shit at trusting my gut and letting the unsolicited advice of those close to me bounce off my supposedly impenetrable exterior. Turns out my shell is quite sticky. Turns out they are rubber and I’m glue.

My ILs think Isa is too skinny. I know this because each of them emailed Mi.Vida separately, my FIL going so far as to educated us on the number of meals we should be offering (five) and the number of calories she should be ingesting (1,000). Oh, and it was suggested we stop feeding her purees, which is hilarious because that is where she gets all her calories from, as she’s not very good at feeding herself yet, thought I do give her opportunities to practice at every meal.

I was not included as a recipient on either email so I’m assuming my response is not requested, which is fine, I will keep it to myself. Mi.Vida is not pleased and has been forced to explain to his parents that he thinks they’ve gone about this the wrong way. I’m simultaneously quite furious and feeling bad for Mi.Vida who’s stuck in the middle. After some seething (and much needed support and solidarity from my Twitter community) I now feel better about the whole thing but I must admit the episode rocked me to my core. Despite knowing in my heart that my daughter is healthy and that I’m giving her every opportunity to physically thrive, I still allowed my in-laws’ suggestion upset me. I guess I have a lot of work to do on trusting my gut and feeling secure in my decisions.

3.

I’m having a hard time getting past this TTC#2 postponement. Not knowing when we’re going to be able to try again is really difficult for me. Tonight I went to yoga, hoping to clear my head and nourish my heart after all the in-law drama that had gone down. The class was taught in the room where I used to take pre-natal yoga. I spent many, many hours there when I was pregnant, some of the best hours of those precious months and I hadn’t been in that room since I was expecting. For some reasons just being there brought me back and for the first time in many months I was able to remember so vividly what it felt like to be pregnant. Even now, sitting at home, the recollection has faded, but in that room it was like a flashback and I was completely cognizant of being pregnant again: the round, bulging belly, the fullness, the expectation, the potential; feeling Isa kick inside me, wondering who this miraculous being might be, wondering who I might become. It was such a fantastic time and while I know a second pregnancy will never be as transformative as the first, I still long for that feeling again. I ache for it, actually, in a visceral way. And while I no longer fear it will allude me (I’m pretty convinced I will be able to carry another baby to term, eventually, and for that confidence – imprudence? – I’m so grateful), it’s hard not knowing when I might be able to experience it again. I hope I don’t have to wait too long. (I also hope I’m not being presumptuous in my assumptions that I can get (and stay) pregnant again. I know nothing is predetermined but I think there is a good chance I can have another healthy pregnancy some day.

So that is where I am right now: tentatively looking forward to a weekend away with my partner; somewhat less secure in my morale as a mother; and yearning, once again, for the revelation of pregnancy.

Where are you right now, in your life?

Thoughtful Thursdays: The feminine engine that could

Our relationship has a dynamic. All relationships do, I guess. Our dynamic has stayed pretty consistent over the almost six years we’ve been together. It is multifaceted and not easily described. Perhaps its impossible to catalogue with words, and that’s okay. I only hope to touch on one aspect that seems to define us more glaringly than the rest.

I’m a Type A personality. I have always been a planner. I create goals in my mind and I work toward and, generally, achieve them. I need to be proactive. Even when I was TTC and the final outcome was 99% out of my control, I clung to what little influence I did have, following a TCM diet, going to acupuncture, taking Chinese herbs, practicing yoga, abstaining from caffeine and alcohol completely and downing insane amounts of supplements. When I’m not sure about something I research it. I read self-help books and follow their advice. I read parenting books and practice their strategies. I am a get-‘er-done kind of girl.

My partner is less that way. At least, in some areas of his life he is less that way. Despite being a Type B-Z personality (what other personality qualifying letters are there besides A?) he managed get into a very competitive top University of California only to then be accepted at a well respected New York law school. After passing the bar he was offered a job with a large firm and did very well for himself there. He even followed through on the popularly conceived but rarely carried out plan of staying to pay off his high-interest student loans before finding a more socially conscious position in the non-profit sector. And if that weren’t enough, he co-founded an organization (now in it’s sixth year) that champions indie music through a popular website. So yeah, he is an incredibly motivated, intelligent and capable individual.

That is why I’m always surprised that I seem to be the sole engine driving our family unit forward.

To be fair I’m the engine driving our family towards the life I had envisioned for myself. That life happens to be the one our culture deems acceptable – idyllic even – so it would be easy for me to argue that I’m pushing us in the “right” direction. The reality is I respect other possible directions as well, including the direction Mi.Vida originally thought his life would take – one without kids. I just knew, in my heart of hearts, that a life without kids would not work for me so I pushed us towards one with kids.

I say I pushed us towards a certain life but sometimes I feel like I dragged Mi.Vida there against his will. Sometimes I feel guilty when things are challenging for us, like it’s my fault that we’re struggling in our new roles as parents because I forced these roles on us. Of course my partner is an adult and he made all the decisions that led us to parenthood along with me (or so my therapist assures me) but he also made those decisions because I wanted this life. If it weren’t for me, we definitely wouldn’t have a daughter and he wouldn’t be struggling to maintain his identity and nurture his passions. If it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

To be honest, if it weren’t for me I don’t even know if we’d be living together. Probably we would, but I can’t be sure. I doubt we would have talked about marriage if I hadn’t started hinting at it and sans my scheming we probably wouldn’t have become domestic partner in our city (we chose a symbolic domestic partnership in San Francisco when gay marriage was deemed unconstitutional in California; we did not feel comfortable entering into what had become a discriminatory institution). I feel like every major step we’ve taken as a couple has been initiated, planned for and followed through by yours truly.

I wonder if this particular dynamic, that of the woman driving the relationships to each milestone (moving in, marriage, children) is common. While I’m sure that some men think about marriage and kids before their partners do, most women I know report a similar lack of initiative on their man’s part, at least at the outset. In fact, it seems the general difference between men lies in the degree of enthusiasm they eventually muster as they prepare to take the plunge.

I have to admit, I’m left wondering why that is. Why do men seem so content to just let their relationships drift on the current of life? Why do they so frequently lack initiative when it comes to securing their relationships and building their families? Since its inception, men have primarily driven the course of human history; they’ve proven they can get things done. Why are they so uninspired to do so on the home front?

I know I’m making broad claims and sweeping generalizations here and I recognize that I’m speaking with only a certain subset of women in mind. Certainly many women have no desire to achieve the goals of marriage or children (I know this well as my sister is one of them) and I’m not trying to ignore them here. My point is not so much that women steer relationships, it’s that men generally don’t take up the reins. And I’m the first to admit I’ve done NO RESEARCH to support my thesis. Still, I’d venture to guess that most women reading this are nodding their head at least a little, recognizing pieces of their own dynamic in this narrative.

Now I turn to you, dear reader. Are you, in fact, nodding your head with varying degrees of vigor or are you shaking it vehemently, poised to put me in my place? Do you think it is generally a feminine engine that drives relationships? Or are they powered, and steered, by both partners equally? Do you think there is something inherent in the female psyche that pushes some of us to achieve the milestones our society has come to expect? Or is it a more complicated combination of traditional women’s roles and cultural assumptions?