Confession: I Dragged My College BF to Couples Therapy

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.


  1. marie claire magazine is looking for women who are in couples therapy with their boyfriends (no kids, not engaged, not living in NYC) and are interested in being part of a story about the rise in couples therapy among unmarried couples. contact tebrummitt@hearst.com if you’re interested or know someone who is.

  2. I had an on-again-off again relationship (not marraige, nor children) where the boyfriend suggested we see a counselor for our troubles. He was astute in recognizing the anger that had accumulated within me over our “starts and stops” as well as his treatment of me at various points. I’m not saying I never did anything to hurt him (although, nothing purposefully or as blatant as cheating, but I am quite sure what he doled out to me was a lot more destructive than what I did to him) but, I decided not to see him after that-it sent me running. I inherently knew (from some of our “stops” in the relationship and dating) that there were far less stressful and “work-intensive” relationships out there for me. And this has proven to be true. In the context of a marraige, with or without children, I wouldn’t have ended things over the counselor idea, but if there were children involved I certainly would see it as a good, constructive effort to save what was built. It’s hard for me to relate to the author of this article; investing so much when not married to this person. Even living with a boyfriend for 2 years, I wouldn’t do that at my age, 37. But, it’s obvious that it’s that important to her to save the relationship, even at the expense of her trust and feelings. I’d like to know how things are after a year of therapy, honestly. Call me a cynic, but I’m just not willing to go through all that over someone who betrayed me.

  3. Rei I dont know if it all works that way. Getting rid of the cheater is not always the obvious solution. One part of you may hate the person till you die but if you invested a lot of love into a relationship then it’s difficult to chuck it into the trash can. Very often the memories of the good times tears you and the cheater apart. I believe working things out is the only way in life to becoming a stronger person. A rolling stone definitely gathers no moss.

  4. ^I agree with your last sentence Ryan. Too many people stay in a relationship that is volatile, and find no happiness, and take anger out on their partner. Just get out of this relationship if it makes you angry to be in it. Find someone who makes you happy, and express happiness onto that person too, it makes the relationship worthwhile by ‘naturally’ having the love, lust, trust, and happiness.

    To me, if you need to go to therapy because your partner has cheated, and that cheater is willing to change for you, great, but you may always be on your guard with that person. It’s too much work to deal with a cheater; I’d get rid of the pain by getting rid of the person who cheated, and find someone who will give you the trust and happiness you deserve.

  5. I sort of think that unless you’ve got kids, no relationship is worth working your ass off over. Having been in very difficult relationships and in very smooth ones, I know there’s an easier way than sticking by someone who’s causing me pain. If my relationships with women become more difficult or painful than they are enjoyable, I end them.

  6. AlanK-you’re right, ice cream doesn’t take work. but how much does it sustain you? you’re hungry only a little bit after you’re done, unless you eat so much you feel sick. I think the metaphor is pretty clear there.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. As someone who has been there before, I really enjoy getting to read about someone else’s experience, and know that someone else has also experienced this kind of pain, and chosen to move through it, rather than to just walk away. I truly hope this works for you.

    And Alan – Icecream does so take a lot of work… I mean, eating it doesn’t… but working off that five pounds does! 🙂

  8. There is a book “Against Love,” by Laura Kipnis. It’s actually a sort-of Marxist critique of contemporary American culture but it does so through an acute and nasty examination of how we think about romance. She makes the point that we are always told how “relationships require a lot of work.” But ice cream doesn’t require a lot of work and lust doesn’t require a lot of work. Why have we transformed what should be an immediate pleasure into work? Why is it not enough to find our love to be something that comes to us, that drops like the gentle dew from heaven? What’s work got to do with it?

    Yes, I know. It’s a simplistic reduction and she has her tongue in her cheek. Think about it anyway.

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