This Spring, this glorious Oregon Spring, I am focussed on renewal. I am feeling new life in my practice as a therapist, in the joy that comes from being a parent and in my marriage.
Even as I have worked with many clients to help them bring about change and growth in their relationships, over this past Winter I was at times struggling in my own marriage — feeling the stagnant waters of 12 years together and the weight of our approaching nine year wedding anniversary.
The irony of being unable to apply the work I do every day to my own self, and my own relationship, is never lost on me. What would I encourage a client to do, I would ask myself and then I would implement that strategy. And so my husband and I went through a succession of date nights, scheduled relationship check-ins, activities like reading aloud to each other, turning off the television, etcetera.
And yet nothing really changed. Because these strategies weren’t touching the underlying situation which was that neither of us felt generous towards each other.
Of course I did not figure this out using my relationship expertise. Oh no! Instead, in my frustration, I temporarily gave up and stopped poking and pushing my marriage and began taking time for myself. I reached out to friends and colleagues for lunch dates. I signed up for some fun workshops (Michael Meade!). I started reading fiction again (1Q84 is a stunning novel which I cannot recommend enough) and not just books like, “Marriage Dead or Alive” (a book which taught me the word “soteriological”). I started running. I stopped working on Saturdays and in other ways slowed the pace of my counseling practice.
The unexpected side effect of all this focus on myself is that I stopped resenting my husband, I became more present with our daughter and I loved my work with clients even more. In my marriage, I became more affectionate and supportive – those qualities that I was working so hard to create just a few months back. It turns out that as still somewhat new parents we had stopped being generous with ourselves and therefore could not reach out with affection or attention towards each other.
So now my husband is on this path as well – going out to hear music and meeting up with friends for lunch and/or beer. And I don’t know if this was really the answer for us – or if we were just in the ebb and now we are in the flow that is marriage. I do know we are laughing again, sometimes the TV is on and sometimes it’s not, date nights are less fraught and more fun and when I look over at this person I’ve chosen — I smile, shake my head at the mystery that is love — and we carry on.
Brenda Fowler, MA