The Beginning Part I
NOTE: Since I’m going to be discussing couples counseling in this post, I just want to be clear in order to be fair to my husband, who has no voice here, that the problems in the marriage were complex, based on both our pasts and our reinforcing those patterns for each other. We were both, most definitely, part of the problem. I am also happy to say that we both took responsibility for our part and worked very hard to change. We just celebrated our 26th anniversary and are happier than we have ever been.
So I thought it would be good to go back to the beginning and explain how I ended up working with the Boundary Ninja. It was not a simple, straight-forward process, but interestingly enough contained the dynamic that I most needed to see. Which after a number of years and one break in therapy, I am finally working through. Therapy does not usually take the most direct path (or in my case, even an intelligible one) for long periods of time.
The Boundary Ninja was actually my husband’s therapist first. He had been recommended to us years before (ok, another weird story for another weird post) and my husband had been seeing him, very irregularly, for around 8-9 years. My husband and I approached therapy very differently. I am at my best with a steady weekly appointment, but my husband used a much looser structure. When he was at his most steady he’d go every two to three weeks, and often took much longer gaps. He had more of a “I’ll go in when I feel the need” style, while I had a “I need to go all the time” paradigm. During that time, I continued working with my first therapist, a woman.
I had been to meet the Boundary Ninja a couple of times when my husband had asked me to come in to deal with a problem. I have a confession to make about a mistaken belief I held about BN at that point. Because to ME it seemed “obvious” that my husband had issues that needed dealing with, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t going in more often. I was wondering just how good a therapist this guy could be if he wasn’t having my husband come in more often. But when I would go in (this happened maybe three or four times over a span of years), I would be taken off guard at just how good he was and the insight he provided. I enjoyed watching him work.
I have another confession, gentle readers. My first impression of him was that he was not bad- looking, but nothing out of the ordinary and he dressed a little on the formal side. There was something very precise and neat about him, almost too much so for my taste. Just wanted to be clear that I didn’t walk through the door the first time and swoon.
A few years went by and my husband and I started to have some problems in our marriage. Or at least I thought so. Convincing my husband was another story. Eventually, I was pushing very hard for us to go to therapy. We decided to go see BN because my husband didn’t trust my therapist to be fair because we had worked together so long. On the other hand, I had met BN and trusted him to be fair. This way we didn’t have to look for another therapist and to boot, this was someone with whom my husband was already comfortable. And BN was willing to do couples counseling with us.
SIDENOTE: There are therapists who would not work with a couple after working individually with one of them, let alone take the other person on as an individual client. BN has over 30 years experience and didn’t seem to have a problem keeping the boundaries clear. It also helped that we all talked about it, if and when we needed to. Since it really worked out well and there never seemed to be a problem arising from the setup, I trust his decision in this area. But I wanted to comment, knowing that for some therapists, this would have been a no go.
So we started seeing him for couples counseling, going every two to three weeks (a combination of my husband’s and BN’s work schedules made it difficult to get in more often. There was also a certain lack of enthusiasm on the DH’s part in the beginning. ) At that point in my work with my first therapist, we were feeling just a bit stuck. There seemed to be deeper material, that was very painful (whenever I went near it, I ended up hyperventilating) that we couldn’t get to. We were still working very well together; actually, we were very close by this point as we had been working together over 20 years, but there was a vague sense of being stalled. But when we started to go to couples’ counseling, I found myself getting a lot out of the sessions. And feeling vaguely guilty about it. That year we hit a series of REALLY difficult life events. In January, my mother-in-law, who lived with us, went into the hospital for three weeks, and at one point we were told to prepare ourselves, that she might die. She got out of the hospital and we left for a two-week vacation. Exhausted, but we were going with some friends which made it very difficult to cancel. We got back very late on a Saturday and the next morning I got a call from one of my best friend’s husbands. We were very close and had raised our children closely enough that they were more like cousins. She was a second mother to my two girls. She had died from a heart attack with no warning. The day after her funeral, when I offered to watch her children, I found out her husband was on a date with another woman. Just a few weeks later, we found out my mother had been diagnosed with lymphoma (she went through chemo and has been healthy for years). And four weeks later, my father-in-law died from advanced Alzheimer’s. My husband and I were also at the height (or depth as the case may be) of our marital problems. To say we were a little jumpy and worn out at this point would be a vast understatement.
About a month later, I went to see my first therapist and she opened with “I have something to tell you.” I teared up before she finished the sentence. She told me that she was going to retire from her clinical practice and go back to school, that she felt she was being led to go in a different direction. It was quite painful for both of us. She gave me five months notice and we did have time to process the goodbye, but when she told me at first I was devastated. One of the things that really stood out for me during that time was that everyone else didn’t think it was a big deal really. She was only my therapist, she was giving me plenty of notice, so I’d be fine, right? I will never forget telling BN at our next couples’ session. (You know while typing this, I realized I don’t think I’ve ever told him this). His reaction was immediate and empathetic. I was almost taken aback at how seriously he treated it. I had been trying to tell myself it was no big deal and everyone else believed me, but him. Through the whole goodbye, he would check in to see how I was handling it and was trying to get me to access my feelings about it.
My first reaction to my therapist retiring was to feel scared and insecure about being on my own. So my first thought was to jump to the first safe haven I could think of, which was BN. After all, I already knew him, was starting to trust him, and more importantly, he had been learning my background, so it seemed like a great solution! I called my sister on the way home from my therapist’s office and told her what was going on and my solution. She pointed out the MOST obvious thing in the world, that I had managed to NOT see, which was that maybe my husband wouldn’t want to share his therapist. As soon as my sister said it, I realized the idea wasn’t going to fly.
But I figured it was worth floating a balloon. So when I told my DH about my therapist retiring, I mentioned that my first thought had been to start to see BN for individual therapy also, but realized he might not be happy about that. Turned out, quite reasonably, that he was uncomfortable with the idea. When we told BN, what was going on, I told him that my first reaction has been to want to see him, but that my DH wasn’t comfortable. BN basically agreed that it wouldn’t be a good idea. especially with DH so uncomfortable. And that was pretty much that. So I decided that I would just fly solo for a while.
BN kept checking in with me periodically as I worked my way through my ending with my first therapist, which I really appreciated. She left in August and we continued to go to couples’ counseling. Now that my only therapy was in the couples’ sessions, I found myself feeling closer to BN. Part of it was that my husband and I had been having problems for a while before we went for help and one of the problems (from my point of view ) was that I felt like I was jumping up and down, waving my arms and screaming “hey, we’re having problems here!!!” and my husband was NOT hearing me. BN did. Not only did he hear me, he reflected back that understanding and accepted and normalized my feelings. I don’t mean he told me I was all right and my husband was all wrong, but he did understand why I felt the way I felt. It was like running across water in a desert. It is a basic emotional need to be heard and understood and at that point, he felt like the only place it was happening.
Something scary started to happen. I found myself really looking forward to sessions. BN started getting better looking. At each session. To my horror, I realized I was taking a lot of care with my appearance and clothing for sessions. Then it dawned on me that I was trying to hide how happy I was about going. Yes, the dreaded realization crept over me that I had a crush on our marriage counselor!!! This was NOT a welcome realization, gentle reader. Part of what had sent me to couples counseling was the realization that I had become emotionally involved with a co-worker (one-sided as far as I know, and nothing happened between us) which was very upsetting as I take my vows very seriously. When he moved, I finally looked around and realized that we were having problems, that I got involved because I wasn’t getting what I needed in the marriage. The ending of that relationship was incredibly painful and the last thing I wanted was another emotional entanglement outside of my marriage. And I mean, how stupid was I? Having feelings for the person who was trying to help me fix my marriage. Seemed just a tad counter-productive.
So I did what any “rational” person does in this situation, I decided my feelings were wrong and that I wasn’t going to have them (I mentioned I was IN therapy right?). That plan worked as well as it always does which means it was completely ineffective. The feelings continued to grow. It was unreal how good-looking that man got. I started feeling like a 13-year-old with her first crush. When I started giggling in sessions I knew this HAD to stop. I felt crazy and embarrassed to be feeling this way at my age. And then the intensity ramped up. So I did what therapy patients do in this situation, I went hunting on the internet for information. Luckily, I ran across this: Erotic Transference . I read that article and then went on to read a lot of the Q&A on his website and one thing really stood out for me. Which was that, as scary as it might be, it was important to take these feelings into therapy and tell your therapist about them. Full disclosure, I kept looking for another answer that was more palatable, but didn’t find one. In the meantime, the intensity kept ramping up until finally it felt like I had to do SOMETHING.
So in one of the braver – or more stupid depending on your perspective - acts of my life, I told my husband that I needed to see the Boundary Ninja alone and would it be ok if I went alone to an appointment? I was vague about the reason and he didn’t push too hard. So I went, heart in hand, and terrified I was going to be told we could no longer work together, to see BN . And in my next post, I’ll tell you what happened. (Hey, how much suspense can there be, I’m writing this blog, aren’t I? )
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