"My therapist, he's no bargain! When he told me I was crazy, I told him that I'd like a second opinion. He said 'Alright, you're ugly too!' And then he made me lay on the couch, face down." – Rodney Dangerfield
Alright, let's go ahead and deal with the therapy issue for a bit. When you are sick, you go to a doctor who looks at you, runs a test or two and then prescribes some drugs to treat the symptoms. When you aren't sick, you may still go in for a check-up. You pee in a cup, maybe get stuck with a needle to give some blood, the doctor probes your orifices and asks you if you have any concerns or problems since the last visit. Most medical problems are kind of obvious. Your leg is broken, you have an axe in your chest, your nose is runny or your heart rate is abnormal. X-rays, blood tests and other diagnostic equipment can yield fairly conclusive data used for diagnosis and treatment.
For mental health, this is not the case. There is no blood test, x-ray or MRI that can detect problems in thinking, emotional adjustment, social adjustment or coping skills. Psychology is considered a "soft science" in that there are few (almost none) direct measurements that can be made in order to determine an illness or a cause. That's not to say it has no value, it's just that the treatment is going to be more difficult.
There's more involved with going to a therapist than simply talking or having a general bitch session. Heck, I can do that here with all of you, my invisible internet friends, and I get a pretty decent amount of feedback. In fact, you are all pretty generous in supplying your thoughts. It also has to be more than seeking some sort of medication. I think one phone call to my doctor would accomplish that with a lot less bother.
Intervention should be based on some type of assessment. Every relationship assessment I've ever taken has produced results that showed my marriage was in trouble. Dr. Phil includes a bunch of assessments in Relationship Rescue and I reviewed many of those I did in 2002. The results still hold, 4 years later. These are nonvalidated assessments, of course, but they give a nice, general snapshot. After answering 20-30 questions in each area, you would score it. Then Dr. Phil would say, "If you scored more than 60% on this test, your marriage could be in serious trouble." I always scored 80% or greater. I always was the exceptional test taker.
So I'm beginning to think about therapy and what I might want to accomplish. I'm not going to pay someone just to listen to me bitch and moan, and then offer reassuring words. However, I will concede there being some value in getting an objective and professional perspective.
A rough outline of some possible goals:
1. Generally assess the health of my marriage with some instrument approaching validity. While every relationship is unique, it is useful to know where we are at in comparison to a "norm." This is merely an indicator as to how far off we are. Too far below the norm means that we have to devote extraordinary effort towards the marriage for improvement.
2. Gain perspective on my own maladaptive attitudes and behaviors. Yes, I'm very introspective, and you all provide good feedback. But hearing from someone who has seen other dysfunctions can help pinpoint specific issues and possible interventions; interventions that have some history of success.
3. Identify and work out any interventions towards marriage improvement.
4. Identify and work out an exit strategy should #3 fail. While I remain dedicated and loyal, Arwyn is not. Or doesn't appear to be. I need to be realistic about this, and explore these options.
5. Gain perspective on Arwyn's attitudes and behaviors. It would be good if she participated in this process, but if I decide to go, I am prepared to go at it alone.
6. Determine realistic and fair exit criteria…not exit from the marriage, but exit from therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy take years and years with few measurable results other than a fat wallet for the therapist. I understand that this may take time, but there needs to be steady progress, even if it is slow. Setbacks are allowed, but the trendline must have an upward slope.
7. Determine what realistic expectations in my marriagemight be, and learn how to enforce them. Perhaps gain strategies for not being a push over, if it turns out that is what I am.
This is a list that is in progress.
So to answer part of FTN’s question, therapy has NEVER been off the table. But it’s not something I go into lightly. I’m a thoughtful, deliberate person who is not prone to do things like this impulsively. And, I’ll go ahead and offer up the fact that there is no small amount of reservation in embarking on what could turn out to be the last gasp. In this way, it is a bit like surgery, where getting cut open exposes one to a host of new ills. And in the hands of someone who is less than skilled, it can be worse than seeing if things stabilize on their own. Therefore, I’m exceedingly picky. I’m fairly open with you folks, but am otherwise a VERY private person. I’m guarded all the time. My marriage was my shot at opening up to a real live person. And I sort of blew that, and am paying for poor choices. My head is my best and most sacred piece of real estate I possess, short of my eternal soul. Forgive me for being reluctant to let someone freely wander about. You all get some access to it, but I have some control over how much you get to see. It is exceedingly limited. Opening up is hard, and I’m not going to give up my defenses so easily.