She has us sitting on uncomfortable rolling stools and facing each other while she watches. This is awkward and oddly intimate, isn't it? She forces us to make eye contact and share our feelings about the topic at hand. We make fleeting eye contact and try to come up with words that not only describe what we're feeling, but also sound good to the couple’s counselor so that she thinks “Oh! These two are fine, no issues here! What a miracle couple, marry them right up!”
As we sit in the counselor's office who came highly recommended by a good friend, starting our first session of pre-marital counseling with bright eyes and faces full of optimism, we look at each other with confidence that there's nothing bad she could possibly say about us… we are perfect for each other! Then she has us verbally fill out what she calls a "life inventory".
"When you were sick, who took care of you?"
"When you got hurt, who came to comfort you?"
"When you accomplished something, did someone compliment you?"
"When you had trouble making a decision, who guided you?"
"When you cried, how did the adults react?"
"Did you have an adult figure who made you feel safe?"
30 questions later, we look at each other and realize with horror that not one of our answers is the same. “What! We thought we were soulmates!”
But wait, every couple has issues. It's a monumental feat to have two random people who have likely grown up on opposite sides of the country, or continent in our case, together in the same house and expect happily ever after. It's crazier actually, to expect zero issues. Dave and I could not be more different, especially in the ways we communicate and process feelings. And react to life's events. And how we deal with our families. And how we do laundry. Okay we are different in every way.
"Is that true for everyone?" I ask confused.
“Yes”, she nods.
"How does anybody ever make it work?" I say now a little nervous.
"You don't make those incompatibilities a deal breaker" she responds.
We leave her office that first week of pre-marital counseling feeling strangely comforted by the thought that we at least knew we were so different. So much made sense now!
“So THAT’S why when I cut my finger while cooking he barely looks up and says distractedly ‘you okay babe?’”
“THAT’S why when I don’t know how to feel about something she tries aimlessly to suggest all sorts of feelings until one fits so she can breathe again!”
It all started making much more sense after that first day on the awkward rolling chairs.
Let me tell you, our communication styles could not be more different. To give you a visual, picture a very loud squawking macaw on top of a mountain talking into a loudspeaker, with a LOT of thoughts all happening at once, and it needing the whole world to hear those thoughts at the speed at which they happen, all the while waving its macaw hands in the air for dramatic effect. That's me. Now picture a peaceful and calm, strong but sensible horse at the bottom of the mountain under a pile of blankets, who has maybe only one thought about the issue that may or may not come together this lifetime, at which point it may or may not decide to verbalize it in a whisper to nobody within hearing distance. That's Dave. So you can imagine us, the macaw and the horse, trying to communicate about things such as feelings. It’s actually quite comical. Thankfully, we both came into the relationship with the perspective that if anyone wins, we both lose. So I hand him my microphone and he offers me a blanket and we try again.
It’s our second week now, and this time she has us standing on opposite sides of the room. This woman always has us doing strange things in her office. She tells one of us to stand still and the other to walk over and "invade the other’s space ". She offers no more explanation of what this means. So I volunteer to go first (of course, because I have to win at counseling), and stand thisclose to him, faces touching, and watch his face as he holds in laughter. Partially because we feel watched and self-conscious and are totally unsure of this assignment. We look at each other awkwardly thinking “Are we playing this right?”
Then it’s his turn, he walks over and stops four feet away from me. When she asks why, he says he saw something in my face and didn't want to be pushy. My face did something? What he probably saw was a nervous trace of a smile due to the awkwardness of the moment. He is so perceptive, sometimes I think he can see my thoughts. Then she explains that we need to be aware of the effect we have on each other, and that body language and facial expressions play a much bigger role than the words we actually say out loud. Dave is the least pushy person ever, one of the reasons I fell in love with him. He is patience and kindness in human form. The man just lets me be me, and gives me plenty of space to grow and figure things out by myself. Sometimes it actually drives me crazy! What is this “space” you speak of? Why would we ever need space from each other, my darling husband? I’m shocked at such a thought.
When we met, I told him “I need at least your pinky touching me at all times”. I like to be close and rarely need alone time. This does not work well for him, as I am the type that needs to know what is going on. I am all up in his business, dare I say, in typical woman form. I need the information, and I need it NOW. How else can we pinpoint the issue and expertly work it out within moments and embrace by hour’s end? I don’t see the reason for delays. It’s excruciating for me to wait until he is done gathering his thoughts and feelings. Are we there yet? Can I assist somehow? I am sure this drives HIM crazy and he is thinking, “If you could give me a moment woman! And back off an inch or two please”. Of course he doesn’t say this because again, horse under blanket is way too kind. Doing those exercises at the beginning of our relationship has helped us see where the other comes from, and not take it personally when we don’t act like the other would. We are all wired differently…what a concept!
My mom used to always joke that she and my dad had “irreconcilable differences”, you know, how people say when they are getting divorced and can’t quite pick the reason. Except they’ve been happily married 30 something years! She told me every couple is incompatible and could easily say that same thing. It took me a few years to understand what she meant, but now I finally do. Of course there are the basic things you should be on the same page as, such as faith, family, values, those "foundation things". But the idiosyncrasies in personality and the way you handle everyday things are not, and should not, be deal breakers. So what, if he leaves the toilet seat up and I maybe fall in in the middle of the night half asleep? I get him back every time I break glass all over the kitchen, or forget to take his gym clothes out of the washer and he smells like mildew all week. We’re even.