Thursday, August 07, 2008

Steve's therapy, redux

Monday, July 21, 2008, 7:00pm

Dr. Debra Sussman's office

After my illustrious attempt at therapy back in the day, I never thought I would be in a shrink's office again, but here I am.

"Steve, Felicia, come on in," she smiles, as if we were her long-lost cousins.

"Please call me Tim," she says.

Debra extends her arms to hug us, but we hesitate, and she ends up patting our shoulders. It's awkward.

The room seems made for calm reflection, from the maroon couch to the soft carpet and the nondescript wallpaper; though it manages to relax me, I forget what it looks like five minutes after I leave.

"So, what's up?" Debra says, placing her hands in her lap.

"We've been fighting," Tim says.

"Really?" asks Debra, raising her eyebrows, as if she were some kind of accountant or tax adviser who couldn't possibly help us. "What'cha been fighting about?"

"I work late hours at a restaurant in downtown Boston. I barely get to see Steve at all, since he works during the day, and he's really frustrated about it. He never gets to see me, and we're newlyweds, and he feels like we should be spending a lot more time together."

"Is this correct, Steve?"

"Yeah. But she didn't mention that she has wanted a chef job for a long time. This is her lifelong dream, and it's finally coming true, and she needs me to be more understanding about that. She loves me, and enjoys our time togther, but she also needs to be happy and fulfilled careerwise, and this is the only way she sees to accomplish that right now."

Debra looks at me, then at Tim, then back at me. The room fills with silence for what feels like an hour.

"Let me tell you something," she says, matter-of-factly. "You just stated each other's points of view perfectly. Know how I know you did it perfectly?"

We look at her.

"Because you didn't interrupt each other, and you didn't correct each other. Not once. I have couples who have been coming to me for 18 months who still can't do that. You did it the first day!"

She smiles.

"Can we go now?" I ask, and we all laugh.

"Steve, did you know what the hours were when she took the job?"

"Well, yeah, but--"

"So that's a yes?"

I know where she's going. I didn't object when Tim was interviewing for the job, so I have no right to object now. But that's an oversimplification.

"And Tim, you spent a lot more time with Steve before you took this job, right?"

"Yes! But he knew that--"

"So that's a yes also," Debra says.

Good! For a minute there, I thought I was being ganged up on.

"Steve, do you want her to quit?"

"No, I just want more of her time."

"How's she supposed to do that? She works late nights!"


"And Tim, do you want Steve to just be happy with the way things are now? Are you happy with the way things are?"

I would really love it if Tim said the right thing here. I'm not going to lie to you: It's hard feeling like I've taken a back seat to my wife's career.

"I miss him," Tim says, looking sadly at me. "I know you might not believe that, Steve, but I miss you so much."

"Me too, Tim."

"So you want me to tell you how you can spend lots of time together while you both work full time on different schedules," Debra says, looking at us.

"No, I told you we were fighting," Tim says. "The problem is the fighting. We're not communicating."

"You're communicating fine," Debra says.

"We're communicating fine today," Tim says. "At home we're screaming and swearing, and..."

"Fighting is not a bad thing, you know."

"It is when it's taking over the marriage," Tim says.

Wow. These two aren't playing around. Better just stay out of their way, for now.

"Steve, do you agree?" asks Debra.

So much for keeping my nose out of it.

"Trust me. We wouldn't have gone to all the trouble to come out here unless it was an emergency," I say. "You know, I just wish--"

They both look at me. "What?" They say in unison.

"No, it's nothing, it was just something stupid."

"Say it," says Debra. "There's no judgment allowed in this room. There are no dumb statements."

"I was just gonna say, I wish we could both stay up all night and spend that time together instead of sleeping. But, I go to work in the mornings, so I have to sleep."

"Wait a minute," Debra says.

"No, I can't pull all-nighters. There's no way."

"You don't have to," she says. "Steve, what time do you get home from work?"

"I dunno. Six-thirty? Seven?"

"And what time do you get home, Tim?"

I see where she's going with this. I get home, eat something, and sleep for seven hours or so, then Tim gets home and we chill out until I go to work.

"You could just sleep when you get home!" Tim says. "Then we can spend time together!"

"I know. But that would screw up our body clocks big time, wouldn't it?"

"This is not a long-term solution, guys," Debra says. "But it sounds like you're not connecting, and you need more time together. Give this a shot. Stay up together and talk about your situation. Talk about your long-term goals as a family. Are you planning on having children?"

"Yes!" Tim says.

"You do realize it's going to get harder when you have kids, right?"

"We know," Tim says, looking at the floor.

"Spend an overnight together and talk about how you're going to fit kids into your schedules. That's your homework," Debra says.