Our contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has a confession to make. (Read the first part of this story, which led her to the therapist’s couch, here.)
I always thought couples therapy was for older married couples who couldn’t get their shit together. Then my boyfriend of two years cheated on me and I couldn’t think of any other way to, well, get our shit together. I gave him an ultimatum: Either we saw a therapist together, or I was dumping him.
Our first therapy session was awkward and painful to say the least. My boyfriend was extremely uncomfortable admitting to a stranger that he cheated on me, so I did most of the talking. Reliving every detail of my boyfriend’s infidelities brought out the beast in me, which I had been trying to tame the last couple of weeks. Several times I considered picking up one of the pillows that rested on the couch between us and beating him senseless with it; then I remembered sense was something he’d already proved he was devoid of when he cheated on me. And yet despite the rage and resentment our first session forced out of me, I walked away from it feeling optimistic and enlightened. At least we were doing something.
The counselor gave us each a to-do list, which first instructed us to create a contract with a set of guidelines of our personal goals and expectations of each other. Second, we were to set aside time for a date night once a week, during which we were forbidden to discuss our relationship and instead focus on having fun — in other words, reignite the flame that my boyfriend had effectively extinguished. Lastly, we were instructed to save fights for therapy.
Our contracts consisted of promises to be faithful and honest, manage our anger, stay positive, avoid discussion about the past until therapy, and respect each other. (My boyfriend even agreed to let me look at his phone, Facebook, and email if I felt the need.) As instructed, we typed up the contracts, signed them, and then hung them next to our negative STD and HIV tests on the refrigerator.
The ensuing week, I had a difficult time not bringing up the past, which often upset my boyfriend. He argued that if we were to make this work, then I was to play by our therapist’s rules, just as he was. “Rules?” I screamed at him, “Why should I play by the rules when you so deliberately broke them when you cheated on me!” While I patted myself on the back for such a sassy slap in the face, I knew deep down that he was right. He was putting forth an effort to repair this relationship and it was only fair that I do the same.
Our second therapy session focused on how we could effectively control our anger to avoid future fights. Our therapist told us that if I was truly committed to giving my boyfriend a second chance, then I was going to have to learn to trust him again. If I brought up the past when we were not in therapy — which I was reminded I was not supposed to do to begin with — my boyfriend was instructed to say, “I love you. I’m sorry I cheated. I’m changing.” If I found myself unable to accept this as an answer, my boyfriend was then instructed to say, “This relationship is important to me, but let’s talk about this at therapy.”
Our therapist also told us that exercise, sleeping well, and eating healthfully were key to making us less prone to fighting. Finally, she told us about “anchoring” and “puking.” Anchoring, she explained, is “finding objects that remind us of positive memories such as photographs, gifts received from each other, purchases made on trips, etc.” Puking is “something every couple does. When people are upset they tend to say hurtful things they do not mean.”
“If J pukes you should not take it personally,” she told my boyfriend. “You don’t want to pick puke up and put it in your pocket. It’s just going to smell and the stench will get worse. You also don’t want to analyze what’s in puke. Just ignore it.”
We laughed uncomfortably as she told us about a married couple that attended therapy sessions with her who utilized the puke strategy. The couple reported that they would first announce they were going to puke, then go stand on a rug in the middle of their living room and unleash whatever nastiness they needed to purge. It all sounded very cute, but at the same time absolutely ridiculous.
But then, the following week, I puked. Although we didn’t have a rug for me to stand on, I walked to the middle of our living room, announced that I was going to puke, and went on what felt like an hour-long rant about how angry my boyfriend made me by cheating on me. “Your dick is tainted now! It’s been in four other girls since we started dating! How am I supposed to be ‘The Owner of Your Cock’ [his nickname for me] when you are whoring your cock out without my permission?” It felt good to bitch — and because we knew that I was only puking, we were able to laugh about it not only after my rant, but during it as well. In some strange way, we knew this was progress.
Our third therapy session is next week. I am learning slowly how to trust my boyfriend again, and he is doing everything he can to assure me he deserves my trust. Our relationship isn’t perfect and I don’t expect it ever to be, but our sessions are teaching us how to make our relationship stronger and better. Without couples therapy, I honestly don’t think we’d stand a chance.