When Hubby and I went through a bad patch that lasted, oh, about ten years or so, we finally got it into our hard heads to try counseling.
This is huge for ‘do-it-yourselfers’ like us.
After all, if you can completely re-wire your home or produce school-wide events for hundreds of kids, how hard can it be to stay married?
My Great Aunt Ruth once said, “Being married is like nailing Jell-O to a wall.”
It has a built-in level of frustration for certain activities, and you don’t know what they are until you’re shrieking at each other over the correct placement of the microwave.
When the Jell-O hit the fan, we decided we needed professional help.
Not admitted, mind you. Decided.
No one was about to admit to anything this side of Paradise.
And by “we”, of course, we meant “you”.
We went for six months, every two weeks with diligence, and guys…we got flunked out.
Who gets kicked out of marriage counseling? Who does that?
I imagine the counselor had never seen anything quite like us.
The first few times you meet with a counselor, you are on your very best behavior.
I channelled Oprah, Buddha and Mother Teresa.
I helpfully explained every one of Hubby’s flaws in a buttery velvet voice, professionally regretful that we had to take up her time like this, but quite ready to hear her list of “how dare you”s and the rational consequences for his behavior that would set our marriage back on the right track.
I counted silently to 100 over and over as Hubby took his turn, efficiently expressing his disappointed feelings in polished tones that conveyed, in more words than were strictly necessary, my nagging, defensive, contrary and unhappy ways.
By the time we drove out of the parking lot, there was such deep resentment between us, it’s a wonder the car didn’t spontaneously combust.
We held grimly on, reshaping that Jell-O and reaching for the hammer, waiting for something to change.
Certain that – eventually – we could nail it to the wall.
Several sessions in, I cracked.
Just a tiny bit.
I said what I actually felt that very moment without censoring.
It felt good.
It felt honest.
I relaxed a little.
“Do you realize that what you just said was really sarcastic?” asked the counselor.
She was excited to finally do my censoring for me.
I left feeling chastised and immature. But only until I thought it through.
Then I realized she had finally found some truth. Sarcastic is who I am.
If you can’t see the complete irony in a situation and lay it out there in all it’s ridiculous snarky glory, then you are living a very alkaline life.
I have to add a little piss and vinegar once in a while, or I’ll go crazy.
Sometimes things get stuck. You try to shove the round peg into a square hole and it’s obviously not going to fit, so you take a hammer to it instead of removing the peg and starting over with a new plan.
Marriage counseling didn’t work because we expected someone else to do our dirty work for us.
We threw the Jell-O out. We put the hammer away.
I know how to clean an oven, or a shower stall, or the gunk that accumulates over years of marriage, the crusty bad habits in the corners and the slimy residue of a million words that were spoken in frustration.
But it’s dirty hard work.
It’s not easy.
And no one else is gonna do it.
You can ignore it and hope for the best…but sooner or later, you aren’t going to want to live in that house.
Throw out the trash of useless habits or words or expectations.
Then roll up your sleeves and clean what’s left; layer on some baking soda common sense and flood it with the stinging, clarifying, preserving vinegar of honesty.
Be lavish with the air freshener of kindness.
Reapply until you are back to the bedrock of the marriage, the solid bits still holding possibility.
Things get cleaned up that couldn’t get clean any other way.
And the little bubbles are fun to watch.