“Do you think you’re a good wife?”
Our therapist asked this seemingly innocent question during one of our counseling sessions.
My answer: “I’m not sure that’s a question for me. I think that’s a question for Husband #2.”
Her response: “That’s a very passive-aggressive answer.”
Not one to take things lying down, I posed the following point of view. “Maybe… From my perspective I could say I’m the greatest wife ever. Should I believe this? Probably not if Husband #2 thinks I’m terrible at being his spouse. I may think I’m doing everything right when I’m really not even close.”
Feedback is so important.
My mother thought she was a great parent. If you ask her today, she’d Marie Barone her way though how awesome she was, and still is, ‘til the day she dies. For those of us who grew up under her oppressive thumb, the sentiment whispered in private conversations is very different. If asked, I’d tell you she’s not a stellar parent. She doesn’t even rank as “good”. In fact, she was horrible and immature and abandoned us. I’ve carried with me a particularly hurtful statement that she used to tell me. “I wish you would have never been born.”
What kind of “loving” parent says that to her child, not once, but multiple times? But she doesn’t see that bad behavior. In her eyes you can see the reflections of gold stars, rainbows, and unicorns holding ice cream cones.
Welcome to the Grand Dillusion.
Obviously Husband #2 didn’t think I was a great wife. We were in therapy. Great wives don’t end up struggling in counseling. I listened to him rattle through a long laundry list of my faults, how I had hurt him, and 10 years of bottled up complaints. How could I answer? Based on what I was hearing over the weeks of our sessions, I was the Devil dressed up like a monster wearing a Freddy Krueger mask.
Is it any wonder my faith in couples’ therapy is nil?
Husband #2 loved our sessions. He found them cathartic and thought the world of our therapist. He was shocked that I didn’t feel the same way. I found these weekly torture fests lacking in one particular area:
What can I change to make things better?
Not only for me, but for both of us. I wanted to change. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be a Great Wife.
I read something months later in Marriage Fitness that made sense: present day marriage counseling is like expecting a person with a broken leg to run a marathon. I didn’t have the strength, stamina or good will feelings in me for the assault. Rather than fixing anything (what could I fix?), I came out fighting like a cornered animal or remained silent and defeated like a beaten dog.
If you’ve ever wondered about words you’ve said, questioning if they should have been voiced at all, you’ll understand my doubt on this next part. After a typical morning argument I reminded Husband #2 that the door was open if he wanted to leave. He pounced on the offer and decided it was time to go. Later in counseling, he told our therapist he was waiting for me to say that.
Yes, I was an awful wife again—if I had kept my mouth shut, Husband #2 would still be here, right? What kind of good wife opens the door to separation?
Obviously my reminder about his options had nothing to do with the bird flying the coop. His mind was already made up by that day. Again, lesson learned: If they want to leave, let them. Marriage to me is not a prison. I won’t hang onto your leg as you cross the threshold.
In the end, I may never be considered for the Wife of the Year award, and that’s just fine. I’d rather strive to be the best I can be and let my partner share with me his needs and wants through honest (and sometimes difficult) conversations securely knowing I’m all in.
I expect the same in return.