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The Marriage Counselor and the List

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The Marriage Counselor

Lots of marriages sometimes need a little help, a professional to listen to both husband and wife talk about their relationship and provide some insights into improving it. My husband Kevin and I have gone to a marriage counselor several times every few years to clear the air. I think a counselor provides that third party perspective and problems can be channeled through the counselor, rather than talking about them one-on-one with a spouse, which sometimes can turn into an argument when one or both parties can get defensive or upset (hypothetically speaking of course).

Living in a household of males as I do with Kevin and three sons makes me very vulnerable to miscommunications in disagreements. Men and women do indeed communicate differently, and when I’m surrounded by guys who don’t understand my communication style or my questions, it’s tough. I sometimes feel like I’m alone in the universe. This, or course, is worse with my husband than with any of the boys, and we’ve had our share of really stupid fights over silly things that seemed extremely important at the time of the argument.

Kevin has told me during many of our arguments that “You just can’t let it go,” meaning that I want to keep talking about the topic of the argument past the time he would like to talk about it. Sweeping things under the carpet is fine with a lot of guys; their approach is “time’s up, we’ll deal with it later.” So the same problem—and argument—will pop again and again. I call this the “cumulative effect.” (Okay, so maybe all this isn’t so hypothetical.)

We first went to a marriage counselor sometime in 2001; we only went four times and then stopped because things seemed to be getting better and it was becoming tough to fit in appointments in our busy schedules. In 2006, we felt the need to go to a marriage counselor again, but this time we decided to go to a different counselor. We made the first appointment, and as the time approached, we were discussing it one day, and I told Kevin, “I think I should tell you that I’m making a list.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I’m making a list of things to tell the counselor—specific examples of things.”

Kevin furrowed his brow and looked a bit concerned, like our dirty laundry would be on the front page of newspaper soon ( or more likely in an article like this one). “Why do you need to do that?

“Because I don’t want to go in there and have him say, “What seems to be the problem?” and I sit there and can’t think of a damn thing to say except something lame like, “We just can’t communicate.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“I don’t want my mind to go blank and not be able to recall our arguments. Saying we can’t communicate is way too general for him to help any,” I told him. “Examples would give the details about our lives that would really help him to see our problems.”

“Like what?”

“Well,” I began, bracing for the reaction from my Eagle Scout husband, “like how you sometimes put your Scouting duties above things you’ve promised me.”

“Whoa, what do you mean by that?” he yelled. At least I knew he was listening.

“Remember that time you refused to change the time of a program meeting you were leading even though it conflicted with Jason’s pre-school graduation?”

“I would have had to call everybody and change the time.”

“Kevin, only three people were able to come that night, and two of them already said they’d be late, so it would have been very easy to delay the start time so you could go to Jason’s graduation.”

Pre-school graduation,” he replied. “It wasn’t like he was going off to college.”

“Still, it was important to Jason.” Then I turned to him and said, “You can make a list too, you know.” Of course I knew full well that he wouldn’t because that would take way too much deep thought about our marriage, and he probably wouldn’t be able to recall an argument we’d had yesterday so making a list would be challenging. I, on the other hand, had a memory like an elephant, which was good when it came to coordinating everyone’s schedules but a curse when it came to trying to keep my sanity amongst guys.

On the day of the appointment, I took the list with me in my purse. The list included several things about how I wanted to be understood, while he called that not letting it go. It included the idea that I wanted to be able to talk with him and have him actually respond and maybe even remember the conversation the next day. It also included multiple examples from our lives to help the counselor see why and how we needed his help. 

I knew the number one point that illustrated some of our issues would be the dedication he showed to Scouting and how sometimes I wished he would show that kind of devotion to me. Scouting is a terrific organization, but he was so active in it as a leader with our two oldest sons that I felt he sometimes went overboard with it. There were so many meetings and activities for each boy and so many leader meetings, that I began to resent the time it took up. Kevin had always loved to camp, and he took every opportunity to go tent camping with the Scouts, which made me a little resentful that I didn’t have that same kind of ‘get-away’ that Scouting gave him. He also wanted our boys to be Eagle Scouts like he was (excuse me, I mean is – once you are an Eagle Scout it’s for a lifetime), and both of them were pursuing that, but this meant they were all busy with Scout-related activities. I’ve supported Scouting over the years and even bought a Norman Rockwell print for our home – a painting of three boys, the middle one standing proudly in a Scout uniform while the oldest helps his brother tie the neckerchief and the youngest looks on in admiration. I even agreed to Kevin’s request to have Jason’s baptism on Scout Sunday with his older brothers and Kevin in their Scout uniforms. Kevin took it one step too far by asking me to see if I could find a baby Scout uniform for five-month-old Jason to wear instead of the traditional christening gown. I said, “Ah, no.” To most people this would seem, shall we say, a little over the top, but these were the kinds of things that happen in our house quite frequently.

All these things were fresh in my mind, and I was ready to explain it all to the counselor. We walked into the building, where he met us with a kind smile, and I immediately liked him. He welcomed us warmly and ushered us into his office where Kevin and I sat down on a couch across from him. 

That’s when I saw them: framed pictures of eagles all over his office walls and even on his desk. Eagles in flight with their wings spread. Eagles on tree limbs. Eagles on mountain tops. Eagles everywhere. I knew what that must mean. And there in the midst of the eagles, I saw it — a photo of our marriage counselor dressed head to toe in a Scout uniform – and the real kicker – with his son, also dressed in a Scout uniform, receiving his Eagle Scout badge. As my eyes darted around the room looking in horror at all the eagles, the screeching music from the movie “Psycho” started playing in my head.

Kevin had seen the photos, too, and he looked over at me and gave me a little sly smile. I could have kicked myself for dropping out of Brownies. The photos provided a nice conversation starter for the two of them. “I see your son’s a Scout,” Kevin remarked, settling back in his chair, relaxed. 

“Yes,” the counselor said, “he just became an Eagle Scout last year. What a proud moment that was for me.” He picked up the photo of him and his son in the Scout uniforms from his desk and held it up for Kevin to see. I reached into my pocket and crumpled my list into a ball. 

“My boys and I are in Scouts, too,” Kevin told him.

“That’s wonderful, wonderful” he replied. “Scouting is great.” Oh my God, they were bonding! I thought at any minute they would break into the chorus from “Home on the Range” and try to build a campfire by rubbing two pencils together. Then the counselor turned to me. “So, what seems to be the issues you want to talk with me about?”

“Uhm,” I stammered. “Ah . . . we just can’t communicate.”

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