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The Second Time

<i>Beneath the sunset and over the sea<i/>
Beneath the sunset and over the sea

The second time couples counseling saved my marriage was in the summer of 2008, exactly three years after the most romantic marriage proposal in the history of all marriage proposals, and less than three weeks after the fight that was the biggest fight in the history of all fights.

The recent six-part story I wrote about babies was supposed to be a post about how important counseling can be when a couple stops communicating, but it ended up being a post about babies because that’s just how I roll.  I could sit down to write a story about ketchup going on sale this week and before I know it I’ll be writing a story about babies.  My biological clock has taken over.

Since I never made the point I wanted to make in that post, I’m going to make it now: Couples counseling saved our relationship and then it saved our marriage.  Now I think counseling is a magical elixir for relationships.  (You can read about the first time it saved us here.)

Instead of re-telling you about how not talking about babies nearly ruined my marriage, I’ll just say that Mike and I have learned the hard way.  Twice.  Ignoring our feelings + avoiding communication = disaster. You could try to argue that couples counseling didn’t work the first time, your evidence being that we had to go back a second time, but you’d be incorrect.  The second time we only needed a refresher course.  We lost our way for a minute but we got back on track in a matter of weeks because we had the strong base we’d built in our first round of therapy.  That being said, I have to admit that Mike and I were lucky in that both times we started counseling, we started before we got to the point where we hated each other.  A lot of couples wait too long and by the time they’re in counseling their relationship has been badly damaged, sometimes heartbreakingly, irreversibly so.

A marriage is another person sharing your home.  There’s you, there’s your spouse and there’s your marriage.  Each marriage has its own needs, it’s own peculiarities and it’s own character.  Marriages need to be nurtured, nourished and cared for.  If a marriage is neglected it will not thrive.

I realize I’ve been proselytizing about couples counseling, but far more important than counseling is simply taking care of your couple, however works best for you and your partner.  Counseling was the magical elixir that taught Mike and I how to take care of our relationship.  What is it for you?  What has been the thing that has saved you and your partner, whenever you’ve needed saving?

Still growing


treasured little things

In the last moments of our final couples session before we moved to the City, our therapist gave us a tiny silver acorn.  When we’d started couples counseling we’d been dating for close to two years but didn’t know where the relationship was going.  She gave us the acorn to remind us that we had been like the tiny seed, but we’d worked hard and now were a young green sapling.  She told us that we had the tools, the knowledge and the love that we needed to nurture our relationship so that it could grow into a strong old oak.  I keep that silver acorn, with the boutonniere Mike wore on our wedding day, in a vintage ashtray that belonged to my great Aunt Sue.  Symbols of things worthwhile; treasured memories.


After Mike and I had been dating for a year, we started having disagreements that would go on for days at a time.  I wouldn’t call them fights because we never threw any punches or anything, but something would come up and one of us would get upset and then the other one would get upset and then things would be really awkward for a while.  After a week or so we’d meet up for coffee and try to talk about it and things would be ok for a few weeks but then something would come up and we would get all weird again.  After several months of being fine one minute and awkward the next, I started worrying that if we didn’t learn how to communicate effectively our relationship would fall apart.

I knew that I loved Michael and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.  I knew this because we had the same values and the same goals, we made each other laugh, we had common interests, we respected one another.  But I couldn’t spend another week in awkward silence, so I suggested we try counseling.

“I would really like to go to couples counseling with you.”
“I think we need to learn how to communicate better.”
“We don’t need counseling.”

And that was that.  For six months.  Six months of dancing around topics we couldn’t talk about because if we did we’d end up in tears or screaming or breaking up.

Then, one beautiful spring morning, Mike looked at me over coffee and said the three little words I’d been longing to hear: “Let’s start counseling.”

We had our first appointment the following Thursday.  Within a few weeks, Thursday’s had become our favorite day of the week.  They were our day.  A day we devoted to spending quality time together and getting to know one another.  Every Thursday I’d leave work early and drive to Sherman Oaks where Michael would be waiting for me with my favorite Starbucks latte. We’d walk arm-in-arm to our therapist’s office and no matter how the session ended, regardless of if we were weeping or glowing, we’d go to In N’ Out for dinner and talk about what came up during the session.  And every Thursday, even if we’d started dinner in tears, by the time we kissed goodbye we were holding hands again.

Talking honestly about one’s feelings can be very difficult, but it’s a significant and important step towards learning how to communicate.  We soon discovered that the thing we were refusing to talk about, the thing that had become the fat ugly beast hovering in the room, the thing causing all those weeks of awkward silences was Marriage.  Mike had asked me to move in with him every month for the last six months and each time I’d said, “I won’t move in with you unless we’re engaged.”  I wanted to marry him but I didn’t want to give the milk away for free.  Mike fully intended to marry me, but he needed to know that we could live together without killing one another.  His hesitance to propose wasn’t a reflection of his feelings for me and my refusal to move in wasn’t a reflection of my feelings for him.  We both wanted to live together and we both wanted to get married, we’d just been too scared to talk about it.

A few months after our first counseling session Michael asked me to move in with him and I said yes.  Two months later we were sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier and his hands were shaking as he held out a tiny blue velvet box.  The stars were flung over our heads, the night air was cool and filled with the scent of the sea and somewhere someone was playing a guitar.  It was the most romantic proposal in the history of all marriage proposals.  I blame it on couples counseling.

Preface to a Prenup

Last week I mentioned how Mike and I have periodic romance-infused financial meetings, but I didn’t go into the how’s or why’s. We had our first financial meeting within a few weeks of getting engaged because we had to if were going to write a prenup.

The last time I told someone that Mike and I have a prenup, I promised myself I wouldn’t tell anyone ever again. But I’ve been thinking about it lately, especially after last week’s financial post, and the fact is that a prenup isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Our prenup is the reason we were debt-free less than a year after we married. Our prenup is the reason we have never had an argument about money. Our prenup is the reason I got to move with my husband to New York and live out one of my wildest fantasies. The last time I told someone we wrote a prenup that person grimaced as she said, “Why would you do that? Why would you marry someone you’re just going to divorce?”
“Obviously if you need a prenup it’s because you know you’re just going to divorce the person.”
“What? No, it’s not. I don’t –”
“That’s awful, Tricia. That’s just awful. I’m really surprised.”

She was actually that appalled, I do not exaggerate. And she’s not alone in her feelings. Enough people have had that reaction that when she had it, I decided our prenup was something people just didn’t need to know about.

Except now I’m telling the entire Webisphere.

I’m working on learning how to stand up for myself. Today I’d like to announce that my husband and I wrote a prenup before we got married and contrary to what you might think it was not because we were rich or because we were planning on getting divorced. We had a lot of debt and our only assets were each other, but we sat down and we worked out the complications of our finances and in doing so, he learned how important it was for me to have the opportunity to run with my dreams. I learned how important it was for him to save money so that one day he could have an old sprawling house to fix up and build furniture for, with a treehouse in back for the grandkids and five big-headed dogs. And when I learned that, I knew I really did want to spend the rest of my life with this man, because no matter what happened between here and now, we really did want the same thing.

Writing a prenup was a way to protect ourselves from divorce. Everyone has different feelings about money and no two people feel exactly the same way. Money is a tender, delicate thing that dances with pride and envy. It can be used to hurt just as easily as it can be used to help. A brilliant family lawyer once told me that money is the last thing couples talk about and the first thing they fight about. I was determined not to have a marriage that could be damaged because we never talked about money. You can’t write a prenup without talking about money, and so we used it as an opportunity to have a very honest and very real discussion that would go on to help us shape our lives. And it’s true, we could’ve just had the conversation without ever writing the contract, but the fun in writing the contract was including provisions like:

“Prior to filing for divorce, the parties must agree to a minimum of one hour of marriage counseling, once every week for twenty-four consecutive weeks. If, after twenty-four consecutive weeks of marriage counseling the parties still agree to divorce, either party may file the Petition without effect. If one party files for dissolution without completing the agreed upon counseling, that party agrees to pay the other party’s attorney fees and costs in full.”  (Except a lot fancier because it was translated into lawyer-speak.)

I really do believe that if both parties commit to marriage counseling for six months they won’t need a divorce. And if they really still want one, then maybe they do need it. However, if one person isn’t even willing to give counseling a shot, then they should pay the damn legal fees.

Wet Hot Saturday Night

In honor of the New Year, Mike and I spent last Saturday night going over our financial records, making a budget, and figuring out how to climb out of the debts of despair. While you may not think a financial meeting is a good way to spend a Saturday night, for us it was much hotter than a night on the town. All right, neither of us really enjoys nights on the town, we’d both rather stay in and watch a Law & Order marathon, I’ll admit it. If we’re feeling really crazy we’ll pick up two different pints of Ben & Jerry’s and swap flavors back and forth until both cartons are empty.

Whenever people tell me about how much their social lives changed when they had kids, I feel a sense of relief because it’s one less thing to worry about. We love not having social lives.

Where was I? Right. The New Year. Climbing out of debt. Thanks to Saturday’s meeting, we now have a Pay Our Debt plan and are fairly confident that by December 31, 2010 we will be credit card debt free. We also have a budget that includes weekly allowances, bi-monthly dates and ice cream.

Is that not the most exciting thing you’ve heard in weeks? Are you jealous? It’s ok if you are, I’m not weirded out. Because here’s the thing: When we moved to New York City three years ago, we had just spent the last year and half busting our asses to pay off all of our pre-marriage credit card debt. You read that right. When we moved to the City, we were credit card debt free. (I specify “credit card debt” because we were still carrying my student loans, loans that I am scheduled to pay until I am one hundred-three years old, and since they are an expense my great-grandchildren will inherit, they don’t count.) To be once again saddled with debt feels like a giant step backwards. We want to be taking steps forward, not backward. It’s about progress, people.

We love our financial meetings. They give us hope. We’ve been having financial meetings since our engagement in July of 2005 and they have always been a way for us to connect and remind one another that we have the same goals in mind. Having the same goals reminds us that we’re part of a team and being a part of team makes the wild ride of life a lot more fun.

If I had to explain why it is that a Saturday night of financial planning with my husband is something I find irresistibly sexy, I’d say it’s because it gives me a sense of safety. That my husband and I are taking equal measures to take care of one another, to plan for the other’s future, to plan for our future family, makes me feel taken care of. It makes me feel like I’m married to someone who wants to see me happy and fulfilled, a man who cares about my best interests in addition to his own. And that is incredibly sexy. Also, I have a thing for data entry.