Listen, I know you’re unsure about it. You’re nervous. It’s understandable.
But the thing, is a lot of people are doing it already. They love it. They can’t get enough. Every week, they go back for more.
If you’re really lucky, your insurance will even pay for it.
Come on, you know what I’m talking about, right?
When I was in elementary school we used to play this game in gym class, where we would stand in a circle and hold onto a parachute that was divided into a bunch of colors—green and red and blue and yellow. We’d run underneath it and shoot out the other side.
I stood there with all the other kids and I was always so afraid I would let go too soon and the nylon fabric would slip right out of my hands and go whirling in the air.
Sometimes, my life feels a little like that parachute. I am holding on and trying not to let go and my fingers ache and I’m sweating.
There were lots of reasons my husband Joe and I started to see a counselor.
We have five kids, for one thing. At any given moment, it can be like raising a pack of hungry wolves. They eat all the food and use all the towels and claim the very air in the room, until it feels as though there’s nothing left for Joe and I.
For another thing, our second son has autism. This means we are raising a pack of wolves but one of the little cute wolf pups screams every time a garbage truck rumbles by the house. He doesn’t sleep well. He is speech delayed.
I know, marriage counseling is not something we’re supposed to talk about in public. It’s what you might call stigmatized. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. It means we’re weird people and we can’t solve our own problems.
I’m not embarrassed.
I’m not ashamed.
I may be a little bit weird, but hey. Who isn’t?
And, yes, it’s true, there were some problems we just couldn’t seem to solve on our own—problems that kept cropping up over and over again like weeds in a carefully planned garden.
Maybe you have problems, too.
Maybe you argue about how messy the utensil drawer is—that graveyard of forgotten spatulas and old batteries and crumpled notecards–and whose job it is to go through all the old junk straighten it.
Or maybe you pick at each other about who left the coffee pot on, or who folds more laundry.
Or you can’t agree on whether your 8-year old should be allowed to stop eating meat at dinner because he’s decided he wants to be a vegetarian so he can just have pasta all the time.
Behind the petty gripes there are larger, more serious problems looming, like the proverbial monster in the child’s closet.
I mention Oreos here because one of the biggest arguments Joe and I have ever had was about how he ate an entire bag of Oreos without even asking if I wanted one. It was a screaming match to end all screaming matches. He was selfish, I was demanding. He was mean, I was inflexible.
Twenty years later, and I don’t even like Oreos anymore. So there you go.
Come here. A little closer. Put your arm through mine, and let me whisper something in your ear.
We all have problems.
That’s right, we all have problems—every single one of us. We all struggle with feelings of rage, and jealousy, and bitterness, and fear. You are not alone.
Here’s how I look at it; when my car makes a really weird sound and I can’t figure out what it is, I call a mechanic.
When I have a sore throat that won’t go away, I call a doctor.
And when I can’t stand the sight of my husband for one second longer and I feel like I am holding onto the parachute as tightly as I can with both hands but it may fly out of my fingers any second—when the stress of our life has reduced us to terse, one-line answers and petty grumbles, we call a marriage counselor.
I mean, there are experts out there. Real-live people who know a bunch of stuff about marital communication and the baggage we bring from childhood and the havoc kids wreak on a relationship. They’ve read the articles. They’ve done the research.
It’s great. I’m telling you, you’re going to love it.
Oh sure, you’ll have a little pit in your stomach all day when you know you have an appointment that night, and it will feel weird and awkward when you walk in together. As you make your way up the stairs, you won’t know if you should hold hands like you normally would, or if you should mention something mundane and ordinary—how your 11-year old failed his spelling test or the dog needs his tick medicine because the ticks are really bad this year.
Some weeks Joe and I weren’t speaking at all when we walked in the door, and other times we could barely stand to look at each other when we walked back out to the car.
Our counselor’s name is Dr. H., and his office is pretty standard—not overly big, but not cramped either. He has a painting on the wall with a rooster and I always look at that when I’m feeling thoughtful, or I’m trying not to cry.
“But you love each other,” he reminds us every week. Usually we nod. Okay, yes. We love each other.
Maybe you’re worried the counselor will take sides. Trust me that doesn’t happen, even when your side is obviously the very right side.
One time I was in the middle of a long, complicated story about how Joe got on my nerves because he was so insensitive and stupid. I’m pretty sure I had been jabbing my finger in the air when Dr. H. interrupted me mid-sentence.
“I’m not here to play referee,” he said.
You’re not? I thought to myself. Then why are you here? Why are we here?
Because we still argue. We still disagree.
Why, just last night we argued, because Joe was bringing the kids to the grocery store to pick up a few things and I told him not to buy a lot of chips because the kids had all been eating a lot of junk lately and he said it was my fault they eat unhealthy because I buy Oreos every week.
(Do you see? Do you see the way Oreos keep cropping up here?)
The truth is, we will always have problems. We will always disagree. But this Dr. H., well, he was masterful at getting us to understand how to listen—how to lift the parachute and meet each other underneath the cool, dark cover, and run out into the sunlight.
And I love my husband.
I’ve known him since I was nineteen.
I know his face as well as I know my own.
When I look at him, I can see what he looked like as a little boy.
I can feel his hand in mine even when we’re not in the same room together.
And he still loves Oreos.
There is nothing wrong with you.
Your marriage is good.
It’s going to be okay.
You love each other.