Mi.Vida and I have been in couples counseling for two months now. I’m tired. Physically. Emotionally. We only go every other week but the effects of it are constant. While I truly believe we’re making progress, sometimes I just wonder if it will be enough.
You know what’s funny? I can’t remember why we even started counseling. Were we really that unrelentingly unhappy? Was their a specific catalyst or did we just hit a new low? Was it as simple as fighting more than we used to, and for longer? I can’t remember what caused us to finally step back and say, we need help, we can’t do this on our own.
On one level things seems better, good even. On the surface, the day to day, things are actually pretty great. We are kind to each other, considerate even. We share chores, offer to help each other out. When one of us wants to do something the other finds a way to make it work. When we both have plans we ask for outside help. We joke. We laugh. Things are not bad. Maybe that is why I can’t remember what got us here.
At a deeper level though, I’m not sure. When you dig past the day to day, when you get to the heart of the matter, it’s much more confusing. The reality is we’re still coming from very different places, we still want very different things. When it comes to the big ticket items everything requires a negotiation.
Negotiation is not my thing. It’s not that I don’t like conceding – I don’t mind giving something up to get something, not most of the time anyway – it’s more like I don’t like the effort it takes. I don’t care for the back and forth, the constant conversations, the talking it out, the trying a compromise on for size, seeing how it fits, determining whether I can live with it. Usually, instead of negotiating I just give in. I’d rather watch a movie I’m not interested in or eat at a restaurant I don’t enjoy all that much than try for a compromise. I also think it’s silly to have both people doing something they kind of want to do just to keep one person from doing something they don’t want to do. At least in the latter scenario the other person is going to have a good time.
But these are all small, inconsequential sacrifices. Which movie we watch or where we eat a meal are decisions that affect incredibly small amounts of time. In a few days the experience will all but be forgotten.
The bigger issues are of course, much harder. And it turns out all our big decisions require negotiation and compromise. From what I can see, for every single defining aspect of our life, either one of us will be significantly unhappy or both of us will be less than content. Is that really a way to coexist? Maybe it is and I didn’t realize. Maybe my expectations were too high.
It’s not that I think couples counseling caused this discord. It was there all along. It was there when we decided to start trying. I wanted to start much sooner than he did. Mi.Vida wanted to wait quite a bit longer. In the end we got a result neither of us was very happy with. For me the waiting created a negative, anxiety filled TTC and pregnancy experience, scarring something that had always been one of my life’s greatest dreams. For Mi.Vida starting a family earlier than he wanted made the transition to fatherhood longer, more drawn out and considerably more difficult. While the years before having Isa were incredibly challenging for me, the years after are just as challenging for Mi.Vida. I suppose at some point, down the road, we may look at it and decide those prices were worth what we got in return. Maybe later we will determine that, in retrospect, we wouldn’t change anything even if we could. (Of course Isa was worth everything we’ve endured, I’m talking more about the state of our relationship).
What I worry about is that the cycle will continue, over and over again, until we’re both so wiped out that neither of us has anything left to give. If we don’t easily agree on every aspect of our lives – how we make our money, how much money we make, where we live, the size of our family – how can we ever fashion a life we’re both happy with? Can that level of compromise, on so many issues of that magnitude, really result in lasting contentment?
Right now things feel messy. Counseling has caused us to unearth all manner of unhappiness and discontent. It was there before counseling, we just couldn’t see it. Like a closet that never get’s opened we kept many of our fears hidden, lest they spill out in an avalanche of reproach and regret.
You know how when you clean something out things get messier before they get better? Like when you dump the contents of a junk drawer on the floor so you’re forced to deal with the miscellany in its entirety? Once you’ve done that you can never go back. You’re left with innumerable little trinkets that have no home and yet you can’t bare to throw away and you must chose to either consider each one individually, sorting through them in a painstakingly careful way or throw them all away and risk losing something quite valuable. The one thing you cannot do is put it all back in the drawer because even if you do you’ll know it’s there. And it probably won’t fit right once you’ve upended everything inside.
Mi.Vida and I dumped our junk drawer on the ground and now we don’t know what to do with it. Slowly but surely we’re sorting through the debris but we’re getting tired, we’re losing steam. We only have so much time in each day to work at the mess and in the meantime it’s still their, strewn all around us. We’re forced to step over it each day, walk around the piles, be reminded constantly of its presence even when we don’t have the time or energy to deal with it.
That is where I am right now, in the frustrating lull of the junk draw clean out. I no longer feel the anticipation of possibly accomplishing this immense task, the giddy excitement of throwing caution to the wind and dumping that cursed junk drawer because I have faith I can deal with what I find. I’m way past the part where organizing its contents is a challenge I relish, armed with shiny new boxes and trays from the organize-it store.
I guess I’m at the part where I’ve put away the stuff I know what to do with and I’m left with all the rest of it, the stuff I didn’t even know was there but now I can’t get toss without risking tremendous guilt or possible regret. I guess now I’m at the part where I feel frustrated and hopeless, where I just want to give up and throw the rest of it in a box and stuff it way back into the depths of the drawer, where I won’t have to deal with it again for a long, long time.
Except I can’t. Because the things I don’t know what to do with are my hopes, my dreams, my determination, my goals. The stuff I’m not sure where to put is the life I always wanted. And I just can’t bear to let it go.