As they arrive at my consultation room, I usher them to the therapy couch. It is just wide enough for them to sit comfortably apart but not wide enough for them to avoid each other. If she wanted she could simply turn the other way and look through my books on the bookshelf, while he reads the quote on the wall on the other side of the room. But, instead, she reaches over and takes his hand. These minor details help me test the waters. My usual ritual is to leave the room to make us tea or coffee. Serving tea is my way of trying to make things more comfortable – to invite a more ‘everyday’ feel to the conversation. As I disappear from the room, I often wonder what couples might say to each other, if anything, in my absence.
The problem is that the conversations had in a therapy room are not ‘everyday’ conversations and, maybe, they should be. After all, I am not trying to achieve anything extraordinary over a cup of tea. We are simply embarking in conversations kind enough to be completely honest. These are sometimes conversations couples have tried to have before, even if unsuccessfully. Other times, they are conversations that they have been too afraid to have but desperately need to be having.
I imagine that, as I leave the room to make the tea, I drop them in the deep-end of an uncomfortable silence in a room full of books about sex, love, religion, the meaning of life, and relationships. I picture them looking at each other and thinking “oh shit…it’s about to get real in here…the conversations we have been avoiding all along are about to happen”. At least, that is what they should be thinking.
You see, there is a price that we pay for not having these conversations: Over time, we become more disconnected from our ‘self’ and from each other; from what is important to us; from what makes us “tick”. Enumerable clients have come to me saying “I have lost myself in this relationship”. One way of finding that ‘self’ again (without leaving the relationship) is to start to speak more clearly on its behalf – to give that ‘self’ a voice. So, ultimately, what I am doing while making the tea is preparing myself, like a seasoned swimmer on the edge of a pool, to simply dive straight into the conversation in the hope that the two people teetering on opposite ends of the therapy couch will take the plunge with me.
But, to be honest, although it helps to have an usher, they don’t really need me. All they really need is: a preparedness to be daringly honest with each other; a willingness to take accountability for the things they have done or neglected to do; the trust to be vulnerable enough with each another; and the self-esteem to set some boundaries as to what is good-enough for each of them. (If you are interested in reading more about these topics, please click on previous blogposts in the Relationships are Therapy Series.)
None of these things are easy. Lennon and McCartney mislead our poor parents into believing that “Love is all you need”. Love is beautiful but it is nothing without conscious effort. We have to wake up every morning and choose to be there. Choose to dive into conversations that are kind enough to get uncomfortable as we swim the length of our days alongside each other.
He loved her, of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day. Choice: That was the thing. – Sherman Alexie