Excerpt from The Sh!t No One Tells You About Divorce, by Dawn Dais
Chapter 6: All the Therapy (when your friends are officially tired of listening to your bullshit)
I tried a lot of different therapy at a lot of different times through- out my divorce. We tried couple’s therapy before we split, we tried co-parenting therapy after we split, and I did individual therapy with a few therapists along the way. I had mixed results with all of these experiences.
As you might have guessed, the couple’s therapy didn’t work out so well. And the co-parenting therapy had similarly unpleasant results. In fact, Elizabeth and I had the unique distinction of having broken more than one therapist during our attempts at co-parenting therapy. We are just that talented.
“Um, I think maybe you guys would be a better fit for another therapist. Let me not recommend anyone I actually know.”
It turns out Elizabeth and I were just a better fit not trying to fit together at all, in life or in a therapist’s office.
The biggest obstacle that we faced in our attempts at therapy was the fact that we were each really hoping (and expecting) that the therapist would simply take our side in every disagreement. I think this happens a lot, where each member of a couple sees the therapist as a judge of sorts. We are each secretly hoping to present the case against our spouse, to which the therapist will respond, “I’m here to tell you, you are 100 percent in the right and your spouse is an asshole.” It wouldn’t hurt if there was gavel involved as well, just to really bring it home.
Toward the end of our marriage and the beginning of our divorce, our communication had completely broken down to the point that all either of us said or heard were endless attacks on each other. We each agreed to go to a therapist at different points, not because we were really looking to heal, but because we were hoping this third party could talk some sense into our partner.
So, you know, starting off on really solid footing.
Our therapy sessions mostly consisted of more attacks, more blaming, and more screaming. And more than one therapist who looked utterly shell-shocked by our spectacle. You just know things are going well when your interactions with your spouse manage to unnerve professionals who literally sit around all day listening to couples argue about their problems.
After we split, I wanted desperately for us to figure out a healthy co-parenting relationship, but in the very beginning of our divorce it was clear that neither one of us was ready to figure out how to actually move forward. Every session seemed to be a competition to see who could fit as much of the past into the hour as possible. We were both exceedingly talented in this area.
I called off the co-parenting therapy, just like I’d called of the couple’s therapy, because I didn’t really need to pay $150 an hour to have someone listen to my ex and me yell at each other. We could do that shit for free.
After our failed co-parenting therapy, I sought out a therapist for just myself. I thought maybe working on myself might be the best way to get to a place where I could eventually work with Elizabeth again. But it was very clear very early on in my in- dividual sessions that I didn’t really have any interest in working on myself at all. I simply wanted this new therapist to listen to me bitch about my ex and assure me that of course I was right about everything.
Again, from a budgeting standpoint, this didn’t seem like the best use of my money. I could call up my friends and bitch about Elizabeth for free.
And so I did.
I stopped going to therapy and leaned heavily into a few close friends. These friends knew me, they knew Elizabeth, and I didn’t have to spend four sessions getting them caught up on my childhood. They knew all my shit, and they weren’t scared to call me on it. And at that point, that was what I really needed.
Time went on, and the initial shock and awe of our divorce started to calm. I was doing well in life, and I was even in a new relationship. Clearly, I was cured, anyone could see that.
But I didn’t like who I was in this new relationship. I didn’t like how scared I was to be vulnerable, I didn’t like how bad I was at communicating, I didn’t like that I was so set in my ways. I didn’t really like me. Not the me that I was because of my ex, or my kids, or my crappy marriage. Just me. I wanted to be better.
And that’s when therapy started to work.
I was no longer interested in finding a therapist who would simply validate all of my grievances against my ex. I needed more than someone who would just tell me I was right. I knew I was wrong, and I knew it was time to be better.
I googled therapists in my area and tried a session with a few of them until I found one I really liked. (Please note: finding the right fit when searching for a therapist is so important. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to keep looking.) Once I found a great therapist I booked a bunch of appointments and started digging in. How had I gotten to this point? What were the roots and the whys of how I moved through life and interacted with the people closest to my heart? Why were so few people ever allowed close? How could I do better the next time my heart was on the line?
Most of my work in therapy didn’t have much to do with Elizabeth at all, because the roots of that failed relationship began growing well before she even came into my life. To figure out a way forward with her as a co-parent and figure out my life forward as a whole human, I had to go back to the roots. And I had to learn how to start growing something better.
Therapy is not for everyone, and only you know for sure if it would be a good fit for you. I firmly believe the biggest bene- fit of therapy is simply the opportunity to speak your story into the air, have someone else catch it for you, and turn it around so you might be able to see it from a new angle. Sometimes it can take trying a few different therapists before you find the one who can get you to engage with the process in a productive way.
The biggest requirement of any therapist, or any friend who is acting as your therapist, is that they are honest with you. You need someone who is supportive but stern, who doesn’t judge but also doesn’t tolerate your bullshit. (Also, it’s worth noting that your friends are not actually therapists, and as such it is not actually their job to deal with your problems. If you find yourself calling the same friends over and over again, saying the same shit over and over again, it might be time to find an actual therapist. You need more help than your friends can give you over appetizers, and your friends deserve to have a happy hour that involves more than sad monologues.)
Wherever you are in your particular journey, therapy can usually provide at least a little direction and comfort. And trust me when I tell you that this particular journey is definitely going to be smoother if you have a trained professional guiding your scattered ass.