“I plan to ask my husband to attend couple therapy, what do you think?”, asked a friend of mine.
“That’s a good idea”, I answered instantly although I know that it can be a risky business in light of my own experiences.
I never suggested going to a couple therapy to my first husband some 30 years ago. I just told him the marriage was over and I would move to Oslo with our son. For years I carried a guilty conscience because I had not given us a chance to repair what was broken. Somehow I had convinced myself that divorcing was the best solution, because he was in love with a colleague and he had a drinking problem that I believed I had contributed to. Due to those circumstances, he was not a good male role model for our son, and together we did not demonstrate a happy mature relation either.
Many years later, when the relation with my second significant other became so infected that I felt like suffocating and tired to death from nightly quarreling, I managed to persuade him to come with me to a couple therapist. I had chosen a middle-aged female psychologist from the telephone book because of the location of her consultation in the neighboring town and we could just fit the visit in our busy schedules.
I can’t remember whether we visited the therapist one or more times, because I probably suffered from chronic stress at the time. The only thing I remember was that my significant other spent much time trying to convince the therapist that I was the only one who had problems and that I was difficult to live with. He was perfect in all aspects. Maybe he was, but that consultation/those consultations convinced me that we were not a good match and I could either kill myself or I had to get rid of him to get out of my misery. Killing was not a realistic alternative, because I had given birth to two children and I thought it might damage them for life. Maybe they even would think my dying was their fault.
That was the second big breakup in my marital career. Therefore I started believing there had to be something seriously wrong with my mental health. Why could I not create a happy family life? That led me to consult my doctor. She comforted me saying that combining a life with a full-time, responsible job, two minor children and an ambitious man in a foreign country is a huge challenge. She advised me to consult a psychologist instead in order to have the “right” professional to talk to. It sounded like a good idea. I really wanted to get to the bottom of what was wrong with me.
Luckily there was a psychologist’s consultation close to the station from where I took train daily to my work. At that time my life was a continuous logistical puzzle with two bikes at two different train stations in order to get around as quickly as possible. Therefore geography was my main consideration in all planning.
Even though the location of the psychologist’s consultation was convenient, her work hours weren’t. They were the same as mine and I did not have any flexibility during the days. My son’s school started at 8 am and my daughter had to be delivered to daycare. I had to work 7.5 hours a day and needed more than an hour daily to transport myself to and from work.
The psychologist was a woman of my age, likeable, reflective and most likely Lesbian without kids. She had a brilliant idea to solve my logistical and financial issues related to regular therapy. It involved group therapy. This psychologist functioned as the supervisor of a newly started therapy group for women, which met two hours every Monday evening. Two women led the sessions: they were in the final phase of their therapist studies. Therefore it was free for the participants.
My only concern was that this Gestalt therapy based group concentrated on sorrow and mourning. I did not think my problem was sorrow. I was the one who had managed to get rid of a person who made me feel unworthy and unlovable. I was not motivated to mourn after him.
The first group session was shocking. We were nine participants and two therapists sitting in a circle with no tables in front of us. One of the therapists explained the ground rules: each of us would introduce her/himself and tell the group what her/his sorrow was. Only the therapists were allowed to comment or ask any follow-up questions. After two hours we would sing a song and leave.
The first woman talked about how her husband of 30 years one day announced he was in love with another woman and would move in with her the first coming weekend. She had had no idea that the husband had not been happy in their marriage and was seeing somebody else. She felt totally betrayed and her life destroyed. She had spent her adult life helping her husband build a great career, had taken care of their home and their three children. She had never taken time to get an education that could qualify her for a job: she was now in her 50s. And of course she had not earned any pension rights either.
I felt so angry on her behalf, but she was just crying silently.
The next woman told how her only son had fallen in front of a train and died the evening he was celebrating his High School graduation with his friends the previous Spring. She had become depressed, and her husband had not been supportive. In fact he had found another woman and moved away. Amidst tears, she expressed hope of getting her husband back, once she would be herself again.
The third woman had suffered from repeated bouts of depression over decades. Now, in her mid-fifties, she was finding out that she had never allowed herself to mourn a child she lost soon after the child was born.
One woman talked about the bottomless sorrow she had felt after her father died suddenly the previous year. Her father had been her best friend during the first 30 years of her life, but then something happened, and they had not been on speaking terms during the years preceding his death. Now she was obsessed by everything she would have wanted to tell her father, and ask him for forgiveness.
I did not say much during either the first session or any of the other sessions during the following months I attended the group. Mainly I was listening compassionately, sharing silently others’ sorrows, celebrating when one after another gradually healed and left the group. New people with new stories joined.
Towards the end of nine months in the group therapy I came to realize and accept that I had in fact been mourning – mourning over a failed relationship and accepting that I have limited control over my life. I also accepted that allowing oneself to love other people makes us vulnerable, but is the only way to grow and create a life worth living.