A Year of Relationship Therapy

A STRANGER HELPED CREATE A FUTURE FOR US

 

B and I sit in the waiting room outside our therapist’s office.

 

He looks at his watch before he places his hand on my knee and squeezes it. I look out the window, taking in the view of downtown Vancouver. The Pacific Ocean is in the distance, peeking through between cracks of grey skyscrapers. 

 

This has been our routine every Saturday morning for the past year. Except today feels different, because we’re graduating from therapy. 

 

“I don’t think you need to see me anymore,” our therapist declared at the end of our previous session. 

 

The air in the room fell still after she said it. 

 

“Of course, I’ll always be here if you really need me,” she added. “But I don’t think you do anymore. You two can do this now – together.”

 

These are words I never thought I’d hear. Echoed through a story I wrote a year earlier when we couldn’t do it – life – together. 

 

A time when we argued and screamed hateful words at each other. When I cried nightly on the bathroom floor until I gave myself a migraine. Or he left the house for hours, frustrated and angry, and I wasn’t sure he would come back. When we ate dinner separately, or silently, and climbed into bed afterwards, both of us sleeping on the furthest edge of our side of the bed, so we didn’t touch each other. 

 

We turned to therapy as a cry for help. Truthfully, expecting to learn something we both believed was true: We weren’t supposed to be together and should move on. 

 

I remember the first handful of sessions. Awkwardly folding my hands in my lap, eyeing the box of Kleenex beside me, wondering how long I’d last before I was reaching for it. 

 

I remember my face turning red with embarrassment when I openly acknowledged that we had a poor connection and shitty sex life.

Kailey Buchanan 

 

The sessions always started the same, our counselor opening her notepad, referring to notes and scratches from our previous session, and asking about our week. 

 

We started with small talk, dancing around the harder conversations until we were forced to face them. There was a menu of options to choose from, but everything stemmed from a lack of intimacy, communication, and connection. 

 

I remember my face turning red with embarrassment when I openly acknowledged that we had a poor connection and shitty sex life. It was something I was tight lipped about and didn’t even share with my best friends. I was ashamed because so many of them had healthy sex lives, bonding with their partners on a deeply intimate and personal level; one I couldn’t relate to. 

 

“We don’t have an active sex life, which is what I need to feel emotionally and physically connected to my partner – to her,” B shared.

 

I was surprised how easy it was for him to admit this to a stranger.  

 

What makes her worthy enough to know our secrets, I thought. It was terrifying to be so vulnerable. I was used to being careful and guarded. 

 

But she didn’t flinch. Instead, she drew her chair closer to us, leaning forward inquisitively. Inviting an awkward silence that was long enough to make me nervously interject. 

 

 “I have a lot of trouble with intimacy because of my body,” I shared. “I think it’s my hormones; maybe I need hormone therapy.” I’d been trying to self-diagnose myself for a while, to find an alternative excuse for the way things were. “So, it’s hard for me to connect with him on that level, to love him the way he needs and wants.”

 

She paused thoughtfully. “Do you feel ashamed about sex for any reason?” she asked.

 

I thought of a moment I’d been trying to drown in my memory. 

 

“When I was sixteen I had an abortion,” I said casually. “But it’s probably not related.”

 

This was the story I’d been telling myself for years. It didn’t affect me. 

 

She raised her eyebrows. “I don’t think you’re acknowledging that what you went through was a very intense trauma,” she said. “And because you haven’t dealt with it, it’s trickling into your relationship and personal life.”

 

She was right. I hadn’t dealt with this part of my life. For years after the abortion, I struggled to navigate the relationship with my own body and sex, always overcome by a feeling of guilt and shame. And this was something I’d never admitted out loud.

 

I had once been so hesitant to share our stories and secrets with a stranger, and now I couldn’t imagine not doing it week after week.

Kailey Buchanan

 

“I want you to turn to B and tell him how he can support you,” she said.

 

Turning to face him in my chair, I realized it was the first time we’d really taken the time to look at each other, see each other, in a long time.

 

“I need you to be patient,” I said, tears welling in my eyes. “It’s not that I don’t want to connect with you, but I need to heal.”

 

He nodded. We were finally agreeing on something. 

 

This was the first of many breakthroughs.  

 

We spent the next handful of sessions digging deeper into more issues from our past, uncovering B’s resistance towards commitment. 

 

“I only want to get married once,” he said in one session. “If I’m going to dedicate my life to someone, that’s it. I’m not giving up on them. Our kids. Our family. That’s why we need to be rock solid,” he said, pointedly. He was strong on his stance. 

 

“My own parents got divorced when I was younger,” he continued. “And I don’t discredit them for it, but it was hard on me, and it made me realize that I want my own family to feel whole.”

 

Our therapist interrupted him. 

 

“What do you want to say to B right now so that he knows you hear him?” she asked me. 

 

I realized what he really wanted to hear was that I was in it too. That I wouldn’t abandon him. That I’d buckle up for whatever ups and downs might come next.

 

I turned to him. 

 

“I’m in. I’ll be your one time.”

 

In between unpacking the heavier issues, we dug into the now, mundane, issues. Like fighting over which household cleaner to use – biodegradable cleaner or hot soap and water – and how to properly clean the kitchen, which always created a fight. 

 

But of course, it was deeper than that.

 

“I just want her to try things before saying no,” B explained. 

 

He pleaded with me, “Say yes first, and if you don’t like it, then you can say no.” 

 

After six months of therapy, we started to communicate and connect on a different level. We set aside time every night to talk about our day and spend time with each other. We wanted, and enjoyed, to be in each other’s company.

 

We cooked and ate dinner together. We slept closer. We started to be more passionate and intimate. 

 

I was more aware of his needs and fears. He was more patient and understanding. 

 

We still fought and argued – but we were more rational. We were finally working together instead of against each other.

 

Now, walking into our last session a year later, I feel a mixture of joy and fear.

 

I had once been so hesitant to share our stories and secrets with a stranger, and now I couldn’t imagine not doing it week after week. 

 

She invites us to sit down next to each other and face her one last time.

 

“I’m going to read you some words that you shared with me on our first session to describe your relationship: Disconnected. Unloved. Hurt. Broken. Sad. Ashamed. Dissatisfied.” 

 

The words are hard to digest and believe, because they feel far from the truth now. 

 

“Do you feel like you’ve come far in the past year together?” she asks us.

 

I want to give her an explanation about what I’ve learned. How therapy helped us normalize our issues. How the process helped us communicate and relate on a different level. How it’s caused us to take action to better ourselves and each other – B signed up for personal development classes, and I have been going to trauma rehabilitation therapy and yoga.

 

But I suddenly feel anxious. 

 

“What if something happens and we get into the same situation?” I ask instead. While we’ve come a long way, some of our issues still don’t feel fully resolved, and I fear slipping into the past. 

 

“You’re communicating, relating, and understanding each other,” she says. “That’s the first step. But actioning everything you’ve learned in this office needs to happen out there, on your own.”

 

Leaving the office, B puts his hands on my shoulders as we wait for the elevator.

 

“She’s right you know. Therapy has opened a door that was once closed. And now we’re both standing in the doorway together,” B says.

 

I smile at his analogy. 

 

“But we can only walk through the door together. You know we’ll still argue about the small things, like who put the toilet paper on the dispenser the wrong way, and fight about the bigger things, like feeling disconnected from each other in some way,” he says.

 

“We need to keep working. And I want you to know I’m in it with you,” he continues. 

 

The elevator arrives, and I stare at the lit up green arrow above the doors, pointing down to take us to the outside world – delivering us to a new challenge. 

 

Say yes, I think to myself, taking a deep breath.

 

“I’m in,” I say, as we walk through the elevator doors together.

 

photography by Unsplash

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