Anyone ever done couples counselling?
Now. I’m going to give you a free tip here. Just one of my regular pearls of wisdom.
Here it is:
Couples counselling is all well and good. But I don’t recommend doing it if your Mum’s just been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Frankly. You’ve got enough shit to deal with.
Hmm. Maybe that’s obvious. But I sure as hell wish someone had told me!
Not that I had much say in the matter. It wasn’t my decision. It was his. The ex. The person I’d lived with for almost ten years.
Not long after receiving my Mum’s prognosis he suggested the idea of couples counselling.
I was thinking more ‘mini-break’. But hell, okay.
Apparently our relationship problems had now escalated to emergency alert status and something had to happen.
And before you ask. No. It seemed it couldn’t wait the 12-18 month period of Mum’s life expectancy. It had to happen pronto. Toute de suite. PDQ
The truth was that our relationship had probably been on emergency alert status for a long time.
But I was very good at running around. Doing the job of two people. Patching things up. Over-compensating. Making things ‘fine’.
And then. When Mum got ill. I guess I just stopped.
I had far bigger fish to fry.
My focus was 100% on her.
So without those efforts. Those patches. Those over-compensations. Everything quickly fell apart.
Add to the mix my shock, my grief and that I was at the lowest I’d ever been. And yeah. It wasn’t great.
Outside of our home I had to be strong. But as soon as I shut that front door and we were alone. I was a mess. I needed to be taken care of. Looked after. Supported.
If I was letting my alter-ego write this post – Ms Sarcastic Biatch (what do you mean, you don’t name your alter-egos?!). She would probably make some loaded comment here. About what an awful drain that must have been on him. Me needing him like that.
Wouldn’t it be nice to think that at times of absolute crisis. You pull together. Rally the troops. Do whatever it is that’s necessary to get through it together. After all. You’ve been with this person for 10 years. They’re your family… If it were the other way around, blah blah blah.
The truth is there was a lot of pressure on him. On our relationship. And it did cause a strain.
Other people have told me since. That at awful times like that. It’s common for other areas of life to shift. To either shape up or ship out.
So yes. There was some trouble in paradise. Something did need to happen.
And as far as I could see. My world had already crumbled around me enough as it was. The thought of losing the only other stable element in my life. Him. It was incomprehensible.
So I agreed to it. And we did it.
Every Tuesday evening. We went to couples counselling. In secret.
And by ‘in secret’. I mean ‘secret from Mum’.
I didn’t want her to know that we were having problems. To worry about me. To feel in any way that her, the cancer, our moving up to be near her, had put pressure on my relationship.
All I wanted her to do was focus on keeping well. Staying positive. Trying to enjoy the remnants of the life that she had left.
The only problem was. It was tricky keeping a secret from Mum.
For one: she was a Mum (nuff said!)
And two: we’d rented a house just three doors down from her. She pretty much knew our every movement!
During those months she was ill. I was usually in one of three places: At work. Commuting. Or at Mum’s.
Except obviously at night. When I’d be tucked up with my insomnia and anxiety three doors down.
So. For every Tuesday evening. For our car not to be in our driveway. It was too much for Mum’s marplesque mind.
She wanted to know where we’d been. Not in a Nazi kind of a way. But I pretty much told her everything. It would have been weird of her not to ask.
So I lied
We’d been at the supermarket. We’d gone out for dinner.
“Dinner. Oh, how nice!”
She’d look pleased. She often said how she wanted my life to be more than just her and her illness.
“Where did you go?” “What did you have?” “Did you have a nice time?”
“Yes” I’d lie. Pretending what a lovely evening we’d had. As opposed to the tense awkward conversations with a stranger about the minutia of our relationship.
I remember one particular conversation with the counsellor.
We must have mentioned we’d recently moved to the area. She’d talked about how the change of moving could often cause issues for couples.
She then asked what had brought us to move there.
And I told her about Mum. The out-of-the-blue cancer diagnosis. The terminal prognosis.
I hadn’t made a big deal of it. I mentioned it in a low key way. After all. This was our new reality. And to some extent. It had become normal.
She’d looked shocked. And moved.
Eyes flickering between me and him.
Momentarily she was lost for words. Processing all the information.
And that was when I realised.
Seeing us sitting there from her point of view. Feeling the sympathy that poured from her.
What a ridiculous thing he’d made us do. To go to couples counselling. When my Mum had just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Frankly. It was embarrassing.
All-in-all. The counselling wasn’t anything to write home about. There were no great insights. Revelations. Or solutions.
But I think she may have just been biding her time. It was obvious I was in complete turmoil. In a state of shock, grief and bewilderment over what was happening to my Mum.
My mind was on hospital appointments, test results, chemo. Not on talking about why he had a problem opening up, or why I might have trust issues.
Looking back now. I don’t for a minute think that his suggestion of going to counselling was an attempt at reconciling. It was a way to manage his exit
In business speak it was the consultation period before redundancy. Only. The pay out was pretty crap. Especially for a role I’d been in for almost 10 years.
Funnily enough. Not long after he moved out. I was in Waitrose with Mum. And much to my surprise I spotted the counsellor in the Deli & Dips aisle. I dodged out of sight. Probably behind the meat slicer. So as to avoid that inevitably awkward conversation:
“Not seen you for a while”
“That’s because he left me”
And then I came clean to Mum.
And do you know what she said?
She said she’d had a hunch that’s where we’d been all those Tuesday nights!
Just goes to show – don’t bother hiding things from your Mum. They always know what you’re up to!
Oh. And about those trust issues.
I’ve since realised: I only have trust issues with people who aren’t trustworthy.
I don’t have any of those people in my life anymore.
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