Our marriage therapist’s office was located in a building with mirrored panes in West Los Angeles. As my husband and I walked toward it, I saw our reflection in the glass. Who were those two people? I didn’t recognize us anymore.
Over the past two years, my husband and I had become strangers to one another. We were two people living in the same house, even sharing the same bed. Apart from that, we lived separate lives.
I’d lost touch with my husband. I’d lost touch with myself. We fought constantly, mostly about how my husband slept till noon, rarely got out of bed, refused to look for a job, and instead had become obsessed with conspiracy theories.
We were miserable together. After one big fight, and I told my husband I wanted a divorce. This time he believed me. It was enough to push him to finally get the help he needed.
His wealthy parents hired a life coach for him, who promised to get my husband’s life back on track.
“If I’m going to get healthy, you need to be involved,” my husband told me after one of these coaching sessions.
Me? Wasn’t the coach enough? A caseworker also came to our house once a week.
Forgive me for not being more sympathetic. I was tired of helping. I was always doing something for someone else. My husband was getting the help he needed. What about me?
I still did all the heavy lifting around the house, especially when it came to our two sons. Our eldest had ADHD and was struggling in school. Our youngest had just been diagnosed with autism.
I was the household maid. Even with the coaching, my husband still spent his days, lying around. He was still obsessed with conspiracy theories.
And now I also had to help my husband get his life back on track?
I know — I sound like a shrew — but you have no idea what it’s like to make sure a man’s clothes are always washed, his dishes always make it to the sink, his children are always fed, bathed, and cared for while he never lifts a finger to help.
So this was the state we were in when we showed up at our new marriage therapist’s office. Therapy didn’t bode well.
I know now I could blame my husband all I wanted, but I was the one who stuck around. I told my husband I wanted a divorce, but he knew I wasn’t leaving.
I was too afraid.
I can thank our marriage therapist for finally giving me the kick in the butt I needed, even if he didn’t mean to push me to leave my husband.
His agenda was to keep us together. Luckily, that angered me enough to finally get me to call it quits.
At least my husband's life coach understood how unhappy I was.
Before we met with our new marriage therapist, we had to meet with my husband’s life coach. His name was Al, and he was pushing sixty-five. Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, he had weathered skin and a gray goatee. He looked like someone who’d spent his life on surfboards and his weekends in tiki bars.
Now he was in charge of not only “fixing” my husband but our marriage, too.
Al opened his arms, and my husband sank into his embrace. They hugged like Al was the life raft my husband needed to save him from drowning. My husband was the sinking ship. He dragged down everyone who got near him.
He’d dragged me down. He was dragging down his parents. At some point, he’d start dragging down our kids, too.
I had to leave. I’d been clinging to this sinking ship for two years. I was in water up to my neck. No — I was in over my head. I should have jumped ship months ago, but I was too afraid.
At least on a sinking ship, my fate was predictable.
Once Al was done hugging my husband, he reached for me. I smelled cheap aftershave and spearmint gum.
“I’m so excited about helping you both to be happy again,” he said once he was done hugging me.
He threw himself into a leather chair and clunked his thongs onto the coffee table. He gave me a deep soul stare.
“You’re an integral part of the process. If your husband’s to get well again, we need you on board with his treatment. So I want to hear from you. How has your husband’s behavior for the past couple of years affected you?”
I also put my feet up on the coffee table. I wanted to get comfortable. This conversation was going to take a while.
When I was done giving Al my laundry list of complaints, he said, “Hmmm, sounds like you’re pretty angry.”
He turned to my husband. “Did you realize how unhappy she is? Your relationship is going to tear apart if you don’t do something.”
My husband stared at me like this was the first time he’d heard me say these things. He hadn’t had to take me seriously before. I could complain all I wanted; I was still there.
I could threaten divorce, but I made no move to leave. I was complicit, an enabler, a supreme codependent.
No one ever asked me to pick up my husband’s clothes. No one asked me to take his dishes to the sink. No one asked me to wait on my husband as he lay around in bed.
The best thing I could do for either of us was to leave, but I didn’t.
I was too scared.
My first meeting with Dr. Jerry, the man who was supposed to save our marriage.
Al led us downstairs to meet our new marriage therapist. Dr. Jerry was waiting for us at his office door.
He had big eyes like a nocturnal animal. As he stared at me, I felt like he was looking right through me. He was. He was summing me up with his giant eyes. He knew me better than I knew myself.
I felt creeped out and in retrospect, I now realize why. Because the advice he would give me would only benefit him.
He would use my fears to manipulate me whether he realized it or not. He had an agenda, and that was to keep us married. It didn’t make a difference if I was miserable.
“Al upstairs says you two are up for some couples therapy to help your marriage,” Dr. Jerry said after we had all taken seats in his office. He went silent, fixing his bizarrely large eyes on us, waiting for us to speak.
“Yes,” my husband said.
Dr. Jerry brought the tips of his fingers together like a steeple and rested his chin there. “And how do you feel?” he asked me.
“Unhappy,” I said.
He nodded. “You know everything’s not always going to be perfect in your marriage. Sometimes things are going to be very bad. What’s important is to stay positive. You two have to look at the good in each other. You have to stop putting each other down. Your marriage might not be as bad as you think. It might actually be quite good.”
I formed a steeple with my own fingers, rested my chin there.
“So let’s say our house is on fire. It’s an inferno, actually. I’m supposed to give thanks for the heat?”
Dr. Jerry put his hands in his lap. No more steeple.
“I’ve been married for twenty years,” he said. “Things go up and down. Sometimes my wife and I are really dissatisfied with each other, but it always gets better. It’s not as good as when we first met, but it’s okay.”
So that was what we were striving for? The big “okay”? To go from really crappy to just okay?
I didn’t want just an “okay” marriage. I wanted a great marriage. I certainly didn’t want the marriage I had. In my opinion, my husband and I were terrible for each other, but I kept hanging on.
How much longer was I going to keep that up? How much longer was I going to cheat myself out of the life I deserved? My self-esteem was in the toilet, and I had nobody to blame but myself.
Dr. Jerry inadvertently gave me the kick I needed to leave my husband.
We talked to Dr. Jerry for close to an hour. He made sure both of us were heard. I complained about my husband and all his problems and my husband complained about my bitchiness.
At the close of the hour, Dr. Jerry again asked us how we felt.
“Great,” my husband said.
“I’m still unhappy,” I said.
What else could I say? How many times had my husband promised he’d help around the house more? How many times had I clung to the hope that today he’d get up to look for a job? I knew he wouldn’t change. I was enabling him.
“She’s always unhappy,” my husband said.
“You make me miserable,” I snapped at my husband.
“Stop that,” Dr. Jerry said. “You two have to stop attacking each other. You have to get along. Life is very hard for people who divorce.”
He was right about not attacking each other anymore. My husband and I were doing nothing good by continuing to fight. It was affecting our children. Both of our children were acting out in school. With the issues they had, they needed stability, tranquility, and structure. With my husband and I constantly fighting, they got none of that.
But nothing could prepare me for what Dr. Jerry said next. His big eyes bore into me. “You leave and you could end up on the street. You don’t know what will happen to you.”
He knew my fears better than I did. Now he was playing right into them. What kind of therapist did that?
I thought therapists were supposed to help you be stronger, to surpass your fears, and become more independent — to stand on your own two feet. They weren’t supposed to scare you into clinging to a sinking ship.
I simmered with rage. I wasn’t just angry at my husband or angry at Dr. Jerry, I was angry at myself. I was fuming mad at what I’d permitted my life to become. All because of my fear of being alone.
I needed to hear a marriage therapist take everything I’d ever learned in individual therapy and throw it into the trash. I needed that to wake up.
No one was going to save me but myself. I had no Al life raft. Al and Dr. Jerry were being paid to keep us together. Maybe they wanted plaques for their walls and good reviews on Yelp.
I can thank Dr. Jerry for giving me the kick in the butt I needed even if he hadn’t meant to. I left my husband soon after.
It was high time I started looking at my strengths instead of my weaknesses. If I didn’t believe in myself, nobody would.