I still can’t believe I’m going to relationship counseling. Indeed, I never imagined matters getting so bad that a mediator’d be needed. But my wife insisted, so I didn’t have much of a choice. The first session was today, and the therapist insists he can help. But what else could he say?
Because the gray haired psychologist and PhD holder counseling us wears glasses and sports a well-trimmed beard and mustache, I find myself unable to think of him as anyone other than “Dr. Freud.” I haven’t said the name aloud yet; however, it’s only a matter of time.
Dr. Freud began today’s session asking both of us to list three things we like about each other. Going first, I offered an admittedly halfhearted: “She’s a good cook; she keeps a clean house; and she has a real knack for swatting flies.”
Her list wasn’t especially laudatory either: “He has a good job; he has a nice head of hair; and he never smells bad.”
Dr. Freud next told us to list the three things we find most annoying about each other. Predictably, she said: “He’s terrible with the kids; he ruins everything he touches; and he’s going to hell!”
Before proceeding, Dr. Freud introduced his most important ground rule for all further communications. He said it’s critical to express dislikes in terms of belief or feeling rather than stating opinions as absolute facts. Why? Because, according to him, facts can be disputed but a person’s feelings can’t be right or wrong. Thus, as he put it: “Don’t say ‘he’s bad’; say ‘I think he’s bad’ or ‘in my opinion he’s bad.’”
The doctor asked her to restate her list in terms of opinions or feelings, and she did. To be honest, “I think he’s going to hell” didn’t sound any less objectionable.
I tried to follow the rules on my turn, yet even I realized my lead item seemed no less insulting with the doctor’s qualifier added: “In my opinion, she’s planning to hire a hit man to do me in.”
At the close of the session, Dr. Freud assured us our relationship will improve over time, if we put in the necessary work. I don’t share his optimism though; and frankly I’m dubious of his qualifications to express such confidence. After all, as he himself grudgingly conceded, he’s never counseled a man and his mother-in-law before.