Flashback to my crappy, dismal, shoebox of a therapy room so many years ago when I was just starting out. I’m contemplating just how much I hate that the walls here are not mine to decorate. I am tossed from one impersonal depressing beige office to another at this job, serving my time as a grad student. I am bored—tapping my pencil—waiting for a late client. I begin to bite my pencil and hear the crackle of the wood crunch between my teeth. I am anxious, I think to myself. Why I am anxious about this client? I begin to self analyze, which is a very dangerous process for a therapist. It’s like not being able to see the forest for the trees sometimes.
I know what it is! I think to myself…my client due to come in is struggling with her marriage and talks incessantly about the fights she is having with her husband. She can’t see it, but I do… that all of their fights seem very different to her, but to me they are all about the same thing. In therapy, week-to-week, I point this out, and she just CANNOT see it. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to see it, or simply isn’t ready to yet. She thinks the fights are all very different and gets caught up in the miniscule details. It makes me work way too hard, but I know I must remain patient and steadfast and, most likely, she will snap out of it and eventually hear me. Yep, that’s it! That’s why I am crunching on my pencil. I am mentally preparing to hit my head up against a brick wall for 45 minutes. Maybe, just maybe, today she will allow me in—just to make a small crack in her wall. Fingers crossed, today will be our lucky day.
Really, I get it. In my own relationship, now going on twenty-six years, it happens all the time. Let me go back to… let’s say yesterday. I approach him on the couch wanting to talk about a problem I’m having and he rolls into Mr Fixit mode—offering up various solutions while ignoring my outright need for a listener. This kind of fight shows up clothed in so many different ways, but it ‘s really just about the need to be heard and not to just be offered solutions. This fight comes and goes and waxes and wanes, but we have a label for it and we recognize it when it rears its ugly head. Recognizing it is everything—and labeling it for your partner and yourself helps defuse the fight and often prevent it. Not to say that the same fight won’t come up, it’s just that, as a couple, you can have an awareness of it so it doesn’t wreak havoc on your relationship.
Back to my client. My desk phone rings. Darn, she showed. I am feeling a slight tinge of guilt for thinking this. Therapists sometimes struggle just like anyone does in any job with frustration—and who doesn’t want to occasionally avoid frustration? There is a knock on my door and it’s quite an unwelcome sound. There is, however, a place in me that never gives up. It’s the part of me that loves helping people make a crack in their wall and helping them to the other side. I never give up on people. Before I lay my hands on the doorknob I set a mantra for our session… “She wouldn’t be here if she didn’t want to see the light.” I strap on my helmet, open the door, and welcome her in. Today’s our day.
Bill Murray is the bomb. So is the movie Groundhog Day. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll instantaneously get my title choice for this post once you’ve seen the movie. It’s about waking up and reliving the exact same day over and over again. As you read this, couples around the world are having the same fight over and over again and will continue to until one or the other sees the pattern, acknowledges the theme, and asks for what they need from their partner in some language other than fighting. It’s an incredibly simple premise, yet an exceedingly hard skill to learn. Once learned, this skill can save a marriage and make a partnership so much more peaceful.
In the eternal comical wisdom of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and everything you did was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?” Yeah, nobody wants a relationship like that. Let’s make it our mission together to officially take Groundhog Day off the calendar once and for all.