We have been together for fifteen years and we have two kids. We have been in couples therapy enough different times for me to know that I hate being in couples therapy with him because he never changes. It’s always been more productive for me to go to therapy alone, where at least I can get things done. But now we are desperate, so I’ve capitulated.
We park the car and walk into the building of the couples’ therapist. I remember one couples therapist telling us that we are in good shape because we drove there together. Today I know that we would have driven in separate cars if we had two cars.
I delegated finding a therapist to my husband. After all, my first book just came out and I blog almost every day. I am busy. I know my penchant for delegating is part of the problem, but I thought this would be one last hurrah.
We get to the office. The sign on the door says “Divorce Law Offices” and there is a list of people with Esq’s at the end.
I say, “We’re going to a divorce lawyer? I don’t want a divorce.”
“It’s Wisconsin,” he says, “It’s not like New York City where there are skyscrapers devoted to therapist offices.”
We see a mediator.
I start talking. I tell him we are not there to get a divorce. We’re there to keep our marriage together. Is there someone else we can see?
My husband says he’s thinking he might be there to get a divorce.
I see we are a parody of a couple who cannot communicate. When I was doing research for a column about divorce law, I talked with a lot of divorce lawyers, and each one said that so many divorces could be avoided if the people would talk. One attorney told me he helps one couple a month get back together, and that’s his favorite part of his job. I tell myself, based on this, that divorce lawyers are good at keeping marriages together because they see so many marriages fall apart.
We talk about our marriage. I think things are difficult because my husband gave up working to take care of our kids and it didn’t work out.
My husband thinks things got bad because taking care of our son who has autism is extremely difficult and we take it out on each other so we don’t take it out on him.
There is truth to what my husband says. Eighty percent of parents who have a child with autism get a divorce. But I don’t want to blame my failing marriage on my cute little five-year-old. Not that I don’t want someone to blame. I do. But I think it is more complicated than that.
I explain how my career is going great. I tell the mediator I have a busy speaking schedule and a six-figure contract for my next book. I even talk about my blog, and the estimated 450,000 page views a month, even though you can trust me on this: Our divorce mediator from Middleton, Wisconsin does not read blogs.
At this point, I think my husband is going to tell the mediator about how he gave up his career for the kids and me and he is totally disappointed. But instead he says to me, “A lot of people I talk with say that I am being abused by you.”
I am shocked. It’s a big allegation. But I say, “A lot of people I talk with think I should get rid of you.”
That’s as bad as it gets, right there. Because the mediator interjects and says that if you want to try to stay together for the kids, it’s worth it. He says, “The research shows divorce is very hard on kids, and especially kids under five.” But he adds, “You won’t be able to hold things together just to parent the kids. You will need some love for each other.”
I say quickly that I have that. It is easy for me to remember how much fun I had with my husband before we had kids. It’s easy for me to remember that every time I look-but-don’t-really-look for men to have an affair with, I find myself looking at someone who is like my husband: I still love him.
My husband is not so quick to say he still loves me.
So all I can do is think while he thinks. I think about the research about how a career does not make people happy. When you are in love and someone asks you how you are, you say, “I’m so happy” even if you are unemployed. When your career is going well and your marriage isn’t when someone asks you how you are you say, “My career is going great.”
The mediator starts talking about how the next step will be a contract to follow rules of engagement. “You have to start being nice to each other,” says the mediator. Right now that seems almost impossible.
We have to wait, though. My husband is deciding if he has any love for me.
He asks the mediator, “How do I know if it’s love?”
The mediator says, “If you care about her life, for right now, that’s enough.”
Finally my husband says to me, “I’m so sorry that life is not better for you when your career is going so well. You’ve worked so hard for this.”
The mediator nods. Next meeting we will move on to the rules of engagement.
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Other posts on this topic:
- My own marriage and the myth of the stay-at-home dad
- My 9/11 day. My husband. The meaning of my to-do list.
- 5 Communication lessons learned in marriage counseling