Sunday, May 19, 2013

From Engagement to Divorce: A Tale of 3 Therapists

What would a woman’s blog about divorce be without bringing up therapy? So let’s do it!

The therapy story began a few months after Max and I got engaged, back in 2008. We had gone away for a weekend to a wedding and stayed in this beautiful, romantic inn. I brought lingerie. Max and I tried to be intimate, and as usual, we were unsuccessful. Max’s disinterest and the resulting frustration was obvious. For whatever reason, that particular night the fork in the road that led to Therapy Lane.

I knew Max wouldn’t agree to just go to a therapist right off the bat, so I suggested that we have him see a doctor first. We first went to a urologist that specialized in sexual dysfunction. After a battery of tests, we found that there was nothing physical causing Max's lack of libido. The doctor prescribed Cialis and told Max to go have sex with me.

Yeah, OK, then. It’s just that easy.

Cialis, Levitra, Viagra, pick your ED drug of choice. But here’s the thing about physical intimacy: it really is mind over matter. If he didn't WANT to be sexual, he can pop all the pills in the world and it wouldn't make him want to screw his loving, eternally patient, eternally horny wife-to-be. The problem was more about the lack of passion for me than the state of his penis.

Therapist 1 -- The Nurturer

So, we went to Therapist 1 (a psychotherapist out of our insurance network), who was recommended by the urologist. We saw her together and separately. What I liked about her approach is that she gave us homework to try to help us rediscover each other. We started experimenting with massage and showering together. We did some journaling to go along with it. It seemed like it was starting to help, and I was cautiously optimistic.

Then, Max got a new job that required him to go out of state for training for almost five months. I was heartbroken because I’d miss him, but I was also terrified that we’d lose all the progress we made. He assured me that wouldn’t happen. (We all know how that went.) We went on a therapy hiatus.

He returned from training in August 2009 and we got married in October. A year later, Max fell in to a dark depression. He slowly walked around listless and nearly silent. He wouldn’t touch me (we’re talking even hand holding) and sometimes he couldn’t even look at me. One time he told me he was sorry he married me; I thought it was because he didn’t love me anymore when it was actually because he didn’t love himself and therefore felt unworthy of my love. I couldn’t say it out loud at the time, but I lived in constant fear that I was going to come home to find him dead in the bedroom. That period ranks up there with my mom’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis as one of the most frightening and heart wrenching time in my life.

To Max’s credit, he agreed to go back to our therapist. She couldn’t get him to try antidepressants, but he did talk therapy and got to the other side after about six harrowing months.

Once Max had moved past the depression, we tried to readdress our intimacy problems with the therapist and I could sense she was running out of ideas for us (particularly Max). I decided it was time to try a new therapist for a fresh perspective – and one in our insurance network.

Even after we stopped seeing her, she emailed me twice just to say she was thinking of us and hoped we were OK. I emailed her after I'd filed divorce to let her know. She really cared.

Therapist 2 - The Tough Love Deliverer / Judgmental Asshole

So on to Therapist 2 (a Jungian psychotherapist in our insurance network). He was very different in his approach with us, and he pushed us harder. In private sessions with me, he urged me to face that I was not OK with my marriage. Zero passion and sexuality was not acceptable to me, and I had the right to find that unacceptable. He probably wasn’t entirely professional when he would point out that my husband could likely live forever with things the way they were. Therapist 2 put the thought in my head and courage in my heart that I had to stop treating Max with kid gloves and get the damn truth out of him once and for all.

That’s when I finally got Max to tell me that he wasn’t attracted to me. (He wasn’t attracted to anyone, period.) The oddest thing about that life changing moment was that Max delivered the news as if it weren’t THAT big of a deal. I guess since he’d lived with his truth for so long, he was out of touch with how devastating it would be for me.

A few weeks later, we went to the therapist together and it was emotional chaos. I was sobbing starting the moment we walked in the door. I asked Max if he wanted a D-word. Max was shocked. (Seriously?!) And during the course of this tumultuous session, the therapist said that our marriage was a mistake. It was probably one of the most offensive things anyone has ever said to me. I fiercely told him that I would never consider my marriage a mistake and despite Max being totally shell-shocked through the session, he adamantly agreed with me.

We walked out of the session and held each other in the hallway while I continued to sob. I can’t speak for Max, but I knew that things would never be the same after that session. We never went back to a therapist together.

While I’m grateful that that Therapist 2 pushed me to get the answer that I had to hear, I also feel: FUCK HIM. He repeatedly made me feel judged, like I was a fool for sticking around this screwed up marriage with this screwed up spouse. Don’t you PAY a therapist to listen to your shit and not judge you?!

Anyway, I filed for divorce four months later. Six weeks after I filed, I sought out a therapist who specialized in women’s issues and stress management. Yup, so now I’m on to Therapist 3 in four years.

Therapist 3 - The Perspective Provider

I’ve been going to Therapist 3 (a clinical social worker in network) for six months now, and it’s been hugely helpful. When I started seeing her, she asked what my goals were. No one told me I’d have homework, so I didn’t know how to answer that. We uncovered that I was looking to continue sorting my sadness and anger and love for Max, and then not repeat past mistakes as I look to future relationships. There have been several “ah ha!” moments where I truly feel like I’m understanding myself post-divorce on a level I would never have achieved on my own. And did I mention she’s covered by my insurance plan so I only pay a $15 copay?! For the cost of one bottle of wine, I get to talk about myself for an hour and not worry if I’m dominating the conversation. That’s the beauty of therapy: you pay to dominate the conversation.

So that is the story of my marriage, divorce, and aftermath via my therapists. Have you gone to therapy or counseling for your relationship? Did it help?

Related reading: How to Pick a TherapistDepression in Men: How to Recognize It and What to Do; How to Support a Loved One Who is Dealing With Depression.

Super Sunday Sync


  1. I can imagine how hard it must have been to put this all down in writing. Kudos to you for trying so hard to make it work.

    1. Thanks! I didn't realize how lengthy the therapy process has really been until I started working on this entry.

  2. I've been to marriage counseling at two separate points in my marriage, so I understand at least a small part of what you're going through. I relate to the feeling of being judged by the therapist. I always felt like they were siding with my husband. And I mean...I'm perfect, so I don't know what that was all about. In all seriousness though, thank you for sharing your story.

    1. Truth be told, if the therapists were taking sides, they were taking mine. Afterall, I was the one wanting to be intimate with my husband... I wasn't exactly being unreasonable!
      Sounds like you're still married though, so good for you guys for working through your differences!

  3. It is hard to find a good therapist. Especially an afforable one. I saw a therapist off and on throughout my marriage at my ex's urging. He pretty much said I was crazy and needed help. (another clue I should not have married him) My therapist was great. She helped me with a lot of my issues that were unrelated to my ex. When it came to issues with my ex, she invited him to join me for a few sessions. He eventually agreed to come once and he said she "attacked him" for putting his sister before me, so he never came again. When he left me, I suggested we go to counseling and get a neutral therapist, but he refused. Ironically, after the divorce he found himself a therapist. I think with the right therapist, you can make great progress. I hope you continue to do good work with the current therapist.

    1. Our first therapist was out of network, and it was EXPENSIVE and just not sustainable. I simply could not find a certified "sex therapist" in network (and I have good health insurance!).

      The thing is about therapy is that it's not a magic bullet. You need to to the work too. I got very frustrated with Max because I often felt like he thought showing up was enough. That's like saying you walked into the gym, so isn't that the same as exercising?

  4. i have little hope for couples who seek therapy before marriage. if things are so bad before you're married, it probably won't get much better -- the relationship already isn't working. that of course comes from he older/wiser me, a decade ago i'd have done anything to save a relationship: therapy/etc. - you name it! had we married (& we talked about it) it never would've lasted.

    Nice blog work, you sounds so sweet, good luck!!

    1. It's a fair point. My thinking was that we were in committed relationship, regardless of our marital status, so do what needed to be done to move forward. But, that said, with good old hindsight, I will NEVER marry someone if we are in therapy so early on.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. When my ex sat me down and asked for a divorce I in turn asked about seeking professional marriage counseling. I received an emphatic "no" and sad shake of the head from him. He didn't even want to try. I knew at that point that he was done (and I felt a little bit that he didn't even care any more).

    Since then I haven't gone to therapy. I was in therapy several years ago for a few years for anxiety and depression which helped a lot at that time. I actually miss my therapist sometimes because I really liked working with him. Since separating from my ex my anxiety has been very low-grade (interesting, huh?) and I've been able to use coping skills I've learned and talk to family/friends as necessary. The blogging bit helps, too.

    Sounds like therapist #3 is helping (plus YAY only a copay!).

    1. Yeah, if he was really done and checked out of the marriage, counseling couldn't repair that.
      Therapy can be productive, but also exhausting, so I do need a break sometimes. I am fluctuating between seeing my therapist weekly to only once a month. Sometimes I feel like digging into my crap and sorting through it, and other times I just don't want to deal with it!

  6. Div Kay (Divorcing)June 11, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    I can't imagine going through so much therapy and still get nowhere with my spouse. Only tried it a couple of times with a "marriage counselor" and the minute he said to him: you need to be more forceful with her, I walked out never to step foot in there.
    Ha! I was dealing with a mentally abusive spouse at home that was now going to get worse.
    Goodbye. Good luck.

  7. Yeah, I felt like I could get a job as a therapist! Sounds like you got a creepy therapist, so good call hightailing it out of there!