There are as many different types, styles, and personalities of mental health professionals as there are people.

People go to therapy for various reasons certainly. Some are coping with stress or anxiety; others with depression or grief. Couples may seek counseling for infidelity, communication, or intimacy deficiencies. Perhaps others may go to bolster self-esteem and/or confidence.

No matter the reason, there is a distinct difference between those who get the most out of the experience and those who decide that ‘therapy didn’t work’.

Here are my tips for getting the most bang for your buck.

Find a therapist you like.

Obviously, you won’t ‘know’ the therapist but it is imperative that you feel as though you connect to that person. You will be sharing your deepest self with them and a certain level of trust and comfort is needed for you to experience the kind of vulnerability that will ultimately help you. It may take a couple of tries with a few therapists to find one. Be patient and persevere through the process. Most therapists will refer you to someone ‘different’ than them if you let them know it’s not a good fit.

Be honest.

A therapist can only work with the information they receive. If you don’t lay all the puzzle pieces on the table, you are wasting your money and their time. If it is too difficult to throw it all out there in the beginning – say that. Let the counselor know that the story is hard for you to open up about but you hope to tell the whole of it as time goes by. We are trained to be patient and guide you gently to the truth.

Keep a Therapy Notebook.

And take it to your appointments. You only have an hour and in that hour your therapist may share some important information with you. It’s difficult to remember everything when you get home especially if the session was emotional. In addition, there may be ‘homework’ and you’ll have more success if you know exactly what is recommended. If you can’t write in the session for some reason – when you get to your car – write down your thoughts; as many as you can while it is fresh in your mind. In addition, keep the notebook near you in between sessions so that you can write down thoughts and/or questions you want to discuss at your next meeting.

Do the Work.

Not only is it important for you to do the ‘homework’ but you only spend an hour (on average) a week with your counselor. What are you doing the other roughly 150 – 180 hours in between therapy appointments? It’s vital for you to *think* about your situation, your growing opportunities, and the ideas / suggestions that your therapist makes after you leave the office.


There are thousands of books about various mental health topics and a few of them are excellent in each subject matter. Your therapist has one perspective that is beneficial and either supporting it or gaining another by reading is often valuable. Many counselors recommend supportive reading, so ask. Read, underline, earmark, highlight the parts of the book that resonate with you – ignore the parts that don’t. Not every paragraph or chapter applies to your particular scenario so don’t let the parts that you don’t connect to rob you, deter you from the parts that speak to your heart. Furthermore, if you find you are stuck on something, make a note and bring it up in therapy; perhaps it is a point that you can pull apart and digest in session.

Keep Going.

One of the biggest mistakes people make regarding therapy is that they stop going when they begin to feel a little better. However, lasting change needs reinforced and cemented into place. Clearly, the frequency of sessions can decrease as you improve but maintaining change is a supportive process and your therapist is the key support person.

Be Patient.

Change takes time! Sure, you want to feel better now; we understand. Realize though that true change, the kind that lasts longer than a few weeks – happens slowly. In many ways, you are learning a new language; a new way of being. Chances are your situation didn’t evolve over a short time span and so it’s irrational to think that it can change right away.

Be Kind.

Going to therapy is one of the best ways to practice self-care. You are making time to look at yourself and make a change. That’s great! It’s incredibly important for you to express internal kindness – be a friend to yourself – throughout the process. Many, many people struggle from time to time because no one is perfect and no one can go it alone ALL the time and stay healthy. Make learning to love yourself part of your growth.

Get Support.

Let your peeps – those who know and love you – know about this important step you’ve taken to feel better about yourself and your life. Again – no one is without some element of hardship or challenge from time to time. Working to make positive change in one’s life is an extremely respectable step.

Offer feedback.

Therapists don’t know everything. Sometimes, we hypothesis as we collect information from you and our suggestions don’t work or need to be reworked. Let us know what is helping you and what isn’t. If we make a recommendation and it feels really ‘off’ to you – say something. Our job and our passion is to help you feel better.

There are dozens of different therapeutic ideologies that counselors practice from. Some are solidly positioned inside one frame (i.e., Psychodynamic Theory) and others are eclectic – pulling strategies from a variety of platforms. There are as many different types, styles, and personalities of mental health professionals as there are people. For the best result – first and foremost – find someone you like!

Feel free to share and distribute as long as this source is credited.  www.ThisIsLeslyn.com – author Leslyn Kantner


Sharing is always appreciated. If you liked what you read just now, please SHARE it with friends and family by using one of the buttons below (Facebook, Twitter, Email & LinkedIn) and know that I am grateful for your effort.

Also, I love to connect with my readers. Feel free to comment, follow my blog, or connect with me on social media.


My goal was to stay focused on love. I knew that was the most important decision I could make for myself and for my future.

Continued from Soulful Expedition

“By your decisions, you paint a portrait of Who You Are” –Neale Donald Walsch

The entire year of 2005 felt disjointed… I vacillated between believing that I was making a good decision and wanting everything to go back to the way it was – well, not really… I wanted it to be the way I wanted it to be. I didn’t want what I had but I did want all of the things that we had dreamt about. I didn’t make those dreams by myself. Hubby was right there, using his own paintbrush to create the portrait of our lives together. I thought we had been painting on the same canvas, using the same colors, and sharing a muse.

Existing in the same environment was unbelievably difficult. It fostered an obscure sense of hope during those moments that were like a transparency overlay of ‘normal’ on the reality we were living. I knew when Hubby didn’t come home at night and I couldn’t help but wonder where he was or who he was with. Even though I didn’t want that mania in my life, I didn’t want to be without it – another conundrum that fought to root in my mind. I just couldn’t get myself to a place where I didn’t care.  In many ways, it was like a slow, excruciating, painful death… seemingly absent of an endpoint.

Frank graduated from college in May that year and I made arrangements to take the girls. I had booked the hotel room six months in advance and shared the location with family so I was surrounded by love as Hubby and I shared the first major life event since decision day, partitioned from one another. We had agreed that we would attempt to ‘co-parent’ effectively right from the beginning but this was our first ‘major’ test. We would have to take pictures that Frank could look at for the remainder of his life – a celebration for him – somewhat tortuous for us as we understood the completeness, the totality of the end of our marriage. And yet, we struggled to believe it.

We would occasionally discuss a reconciliation but I had learned how to establish boundaries of steel. Actually, my boundaries by then were made of vertical steel columns and horizontal I-beams… the kind you find in skyscrapers that keep them vertical regardless of violent summer storms. Those limitations included an exit strategy for Abee from our business and some kind of treatment initiative, a long-term – evidence based – plan to eliminate the potential for infidelity to ever again exist in our marriage. I was unwilling to budge from those two ‘deal breakers’. They were my ‘hard limits’ and they represented the dead end of every bridging conversation we attempted to have. He also had deal breakers.

Nevertheless, we continued to show up – separately – at swim meets, school, and scouting events but didn’t sit together. I wasn’t there yet. There were times when I could feel his eyes seeking mine but I refused to give in and glance back. I was insanely stubborn and unyielding, refusing to be flexible. This is the result of betrayal. It was the only way I knew to ‘fight back’ and the love I had for our children was bigger than the disdain I had for him. I put their interests first to the extent that it wasn’t complete and total disrespect of myself. I had finally learned to put self-respect first.

After being deceived by Hubby and Abee, our therapist fired them as clients but I still went. I was learning a lot about myself although I admit I was still a bit lost. I was directionless. I knew I wanted to share everything I was learning – about life, life lessons, love, God, spiritual growth, I knew there was a message there but I had no credentials other than my life and I was in the middle of some big stuff. I credited my therapist for being the map reader for me … helping me to lay it out and observe the roads, to help me decide on the destination and to plan the route there. I wanted to do that too… I decided that summer that I would become a therapist and was almost immediately dismayed at the expanse of the journey. Five years. I would be fifty. Shit. I felt defeated and bested. I was in the middle of a divorce; how could I make that happen?

Right after Frank graduated from college, I started. I was scared to death of Behavioral Statistics and even more so when this tiny, petite, old (really, she was 70 something) woman walked into the room wearing a full suit with a high collared blouse, buttoned to the top. It was 80 degrees outside and for some reason, there was no air-conditioning. She spoke in a low monotone voice and cleared her throat every 5th word. The chick behind me started texting a mile a minute (I could hear every button push) and I knew I was in trouble. Within a week, I understood that if I raised my hand, asked questions, and demonstrated (well-deserved) respect for my elders… It would all be ok. More than half the class had dropped but I survived. I got a B.  I was encouraged and so I registered for a full semester of Psychology classes, French, and Women’s Studies beginning in September. I had only a few months left before I became a full-time student.

I used that time to educate myself in a different way. I was more fortunate than many, many women like me… I owned half of a company that had some value. I was still married to a man who generated a healthy income and continued to pay the bills so I didn’t ‘have to’ work – not right then at least. I had to believe in divine direction because at any other time before, the circumstances were different, the resources less abundant, and so now… I had options. The timing of the reality provided the capacity for me – with much diligence – to investigate and navigate what would be in my (and the children’s) best interest. I was a hawk. My eyes and ears were everywhere from business evaluation to support allowances. I became an expert traversing Google; discovering resources and precedent for situations like mine and I waited.

With each passing day, I garnered strength. I used my support network, built new alliances, and got informed. I kept my finger on the pulse of the finances in our business and stood up for my rights as co-owner. I will comment again on how difficult it was to walk away from that part of me. The internal struggle to push through it and go to work even if it meant I had to be around Hubby and Abee versus letting go and observing it in action was at times, maddening. On the few occasions that I did drop in for one reason or another, it was like breaking through a barrier betrayal and disillusionment, like what football players do as they enter a stadium for a game rematch each week. I finally had to decide that constant exposure to such painful energy was simply unhealthy for me, keeping me tethered to the shadows of my soul. It was my first true experience of ‘letting go’ that I consciously practiced and it was laborious; a daily endeavor.

My goal was to stay focused on love. I knew that was the most important decision I could make for myself and for my future. I was tempted, so tempted to give in to my anger, my contempt, the humiliation, and sorrow… and occasionally I did, in the form of vile language directed at Hubby or the disparaging conversations I would have with friends or in my thoughts; my ugly thoughts. I am only human though and I knew that love was more dominate in my spirit and so I learned to forgive myself and to keep going.

Welcome Back

Was the universe allowing these incidents to happen so that I could face my fears?

Continued from Silver Linings

“There is a kind of magicness about going far away and then coming back all changed.” ~ Kate Douglas Wiggin

Our focus became our family. We loved to take the girls camping and did so many times throughout the summer. They were good times. When we were away from the world, from work and responsibilities, we were the epitome of a happy family. On our camping weekends, we were about hikes and reading; about relaxing and campfires. It was a time before electronics and so we enjoyed what nature and the campground had to offer. I loved those weekends. They were what I wanted my daily life to be like.

Hubby and I talked a lot. We had learned so much about communicating with each other in counseling and much more about ourselves. When we were being introspective and taking personal responsibility, it was easy to be together. We were developing bigger dreams for the future of our business as it was growing in success year by year. The ‘hard’ times were ending and we could clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel. We were preparing to enjoy the successes of our years of dedication.  We traveled a bit for work that year and got to know a few colleagues across the country who were similarly dedicated to growing their businesses. We enjoyed our time together and made tentative plans to create more travel opportunities together.

Trust remained difficult for me. I stopped several times a day for a small, silent prayer for strength to stay focused on where we were rather than where we had been. I still watched and waited with baited breath when he was a bit late but my concentration was centered on reminding myself that I was there by choice – that keeping my family intact was the number one priority. Things had changed – Hubby was different. He was attentive and involved. We were more emotionally connected than we had been in years. I had hope.

My relationship with Abee had been extraordinarily elusive. I was so unforgiving of that breach of loyalty that I honestly wondered if it could ever be mended. Mom was in an impossible position. She lived with and enabled Abee. Mom was tired and beyond conflict and so she surrendered to the outspoken desires; wishes; gentle demands of her daughters. Most frequently to the one that was there all the time – the one that looked out for her – the one that made mom’s life easier – at least in theory. My goal was to keep mom a part of my life yet because Abee was so intricately woven into hers, mom’s availability to me was often limited. When it looked like my life was going to work out and I was feeling happier, she would express deep sadness because I wasn’t willing to include Abee “what about holidays for the rest of our lives?” she would ask.

I had emotionally shut the door on Abee but I could see that mom was struggling. In truth – if I didn’t veer on the path we were traveling, this family would never again enjoy a Thanksgiving or a Christmas altogether. Was I really expecting mom to take sides? Our therapist began working with us together. Once a week Abee and I would meet together with the counselor and word by word we attempted to unravel the convoluted mess that now existed in the space between us. She would sit in a recliner in one corner of the room so that she didn’t have to look directly at me, sitting on one end of a sofa as we both kept our eyes focused on the person who was trying to help us find our way back to one another. By fall we were starting to talk outside of therapy. Sometimes at lunch, we would sit out back of the office on a picnic table and it would – for a tiny minute – feel like old times. I could go to moms if Abee was home as long as she wasn’t sitting right there in the room with us. I agreed to let her come to the house to see the girls if I was home but I wasn’t willing to have her interject herself back into their lives at full force. I still didn’t trust her either.

From time to time I continued to be plagued with lightheadedness and shortness of breath. Since my exams and tests hadn’t identified anything conclusive, I trudged through the ‘episodes’ as they came but I was always a little afraid of ‘what they may have missed’ and when my mind got carried away with visions of a slow and painful death from some rare brain tumor, I would pick up a book of inspiration and read.

One of the sentiments from the first book Conversations with God (pg. 54) is the quote: “Emotion is the power which attracts. That which you fear strongly, you will experience”. I thought about that quote a lot because so much of my life in recent years was based on a collection of fears that had accumulated over time.

My fear of never being able to satisfy my husband sexually.

My fear of not being needed at home because Abee could simply step in and never skip a beat.

My fear of not being able to provide for myself.

My fear of people finding out that I was living a life of lies.

I coupled those thoughts with the principle I had learned in SAGE regarding the Law of Attraction and suddenly I was wondering if I had created all of this drama in my life just because I had been afraid… was I responsible for all of this? Was the universe allowing these incidents to happen so that I could face my fears? Was this more than just some ‘silver lining’ lesson?

My therapist was wonderful about helping me digest many of the thoughts that moved through my awareness, listening, validating, and encouraging me to keep thinking. She would gently settle me when I was too hard on myself and yet would push me to move beyond my mental comfort zone when it appeared as though I was settling for the easy answer. I reconciled that I was certainly NOT individually responsible for everything that had transpired. I created a list of the areas where I was most admittedly culpable and I understood how I had ignored myself; my voice, for many years. I vowed to make sure never – ever – to move that far away from ‘me’ again. For the first time in my life, I felt proud of who I was and could acknowledge the strength that so many people had seen in me.

I realized then that like so many others in my life, I, too – had abandoned me. One day, I looked in the mirror and smiled saying “Welcome back Les… don’t ever leave again.” And I knew I wouldn’t.

Silver Linings

I knew that the loving energy of God worked in mysterious ways and we were learning how to love despite the tremendous pain.

“We must assume every event has significance and contains a message that pertains to our questions…this especially applies to what we used to call bad things…the challenge is to find the silver lining in every event, no matter how negative.”  – James Redfield

It’s challenging to write about this time in my life because literally, every day felt difficult if I moved outside the protective walls of my home where my children provided the padding with their smiles, hugs, and loving presence.

To emotionally survive, it was necessary for me to adopt a way of thinking that provided encouragement and hope. I used the basic tenets of my belief structure which are embodied by the quote I use in this post – that ‘in each negative experience, there is value’.  I found strength in the notion that my role in this experience was to search for the lesson and grow.

Our therapy took on a different structure as we began weekly individual sessions and I started to look at myself more closely. I wanted to understand my role in the craziness that was my current life. After the first affair, I could accept that I had room to grow as a wife and a partner and I worked hard to ‘shore up’ those behaviors that contributed to more harmony in our lives. I believed that we had grown as a couple and had become stronger partners, better parents, and good business partners. Our remaining challenges focused on the differences in our sexual needs and I had surrendered myself to the extent that mine were unrecognizable.

This second affair suggested that our problems were less about my ability to be a good partner and more about the individual psychological deficiencies that kept us engaging in dysfunctional behaviors; Hubby having affairs and me staying in such a relationship.

Today, I teach people that behavior is only dysfunctional to the extent that it interferes with your life and/or your relationships. If it works in your life – great. If it doesn’t – fix it.

Something about me had to change. I discovered that my self-esteem had suffered considerably throughout the course of my marriage. Indeed, it hadn’t ever been tremendously strong but the erosion over time in this relationship had diluted what little there was. In therapy, I was able to identify body ‘issues’ that were triggers for me and understand how emphasized they became with the sexual discourse that reigned in my marriage. She helped me define sexual boundaries that were healthy for me – based on my interests and pleasure. Most importantly, she helped me know how to communicate them and stay grounded there.

I judged myself very harshly. The more aware I became; the more devastated I was about the behavior I had allowed myself to tolerate. I was a smart woman, a product of the Women’s Liberation Movement, independent and reasonable. How in the world had I evolved into a woman who had allowed herself to be so blatantly disrespected?

My therapist introduced the term Gaslighting.  It is an effort of one person to ‘overwrite’ or reformat the thoughts of another person with their own. It originated with the 1938 play Gas Light where a woman developed a belief that she was crazy when her husband manipulated information about reality. It has been used psychologically since to describe the manipulation of someone’s sense of reality. Gaslighting is common in cases of infidelity, the continuous denial of the cheater can eventually undermine the affected partner’s sense of reality – leading one to question what, often most, of what they believe to be real.

Learning about Gaslighting was a turning point for me. I was incredibly grateful that I wasn’t crazy!! I allowed myself to reflect on a proliferation of memories and see them more clearly. I slowly relearned how to trust my senses and how to validate myself. The flip side of this was understanding just how deeply my trust in Hubby had been dismantled. I found it difficult to believe anything he said to me, which didn’t help in the process of restoring some semblance of a relationship. I started to see myself differently.

I continued to read every self-help book that called to me. I was hungry to learn about myself and to understand why I chose this relationship – this difficult – seemingly impossible liaison with a man who was also, in his own way – broken. I wanted to comprehend what it was that brought us together and discern what potential there was for us. I grew to believe that we were together ‘for a reason’ – that we had chosen one another for the lesson that existed in our union. What was it??

The Conversations with God series by Neale Donald Walsch continued to provide inspiration for me and I found my spiritual instinct more pronounced, more substantial. I found that as I stepped away from what I perceived as a ‘religious’ view of God – some man on a throne – and thought of God in a universal sentience, the creating energy of all things, existing everywhere at all times, the purest vibration of love – I was experiencing God in a very new, consistent, and comfortable way. I found peace in the idea that I was constantly shrouded with a universal energy that consisted purely of love. I would imagine myself in a God bubble, healing my heart by its grace.

In this spirit, I could get up each morning and look at my husband. I was able to go to work and engage with my sister. I could imagine a time when my extended family might again go on picnics and gather again for Thanksgiving. Our healing was slow, the growth sometimes painful. It was exceptionally challenging for me to begin to trust Hubby. First, I had to trust that he and Abee had terminated their personal entanglements. We rearranged the work schedules, which presented a myriad of complexities and frankly, wasn’t as successful but I was unwilling to have them interacting so closely together any longer. I became a private detective; keenly observing every little detail and deciding about its authenticity in context to my reality. I developed an ability to honor my instincts. I noticed every little detail and was constantly on guard. My therapist taught me how NOT to file stuff away in disbelief but to present information and check for its accuracy. I learned the danger of assumptions and developed a process by which I could fact check and dispel accusations.

Hubby was learning too. Not long after this all blew up; he took some time off and intently addressed his emotional composition. He immersed himself in personal growth also, delivering him to a point where he committed himself to me and to our family in many of the ways I had been yearning for, for years. Maybe this was it – maybe we had been brought together so that we – both – could grow. Perhaps we were catalysts for one another. I knew that the loving energy of God worked in mysterious ways and we were learning how to love despite the tremendous pain. I believed that was part of what Jesus taught us to do… love and grow through pain. We were doing just that.

The transformation for both of us was far from complete but we had risen from the ashes of this debacle deeply scarred but hopeful for our future. I was far from trusting. In fact, the absence of trust contributed negatively in our rebuilding efforts and for every five or six steps forward we moved, there was two or three back. However, I believed in our advancing momentum.

Body Language

…something in my body shivered as if a universal vibration had just split or severed or breached.

“Emotion always has its roots in the unconscious and manifests itself in the body.” – Irene Claremont de Castillejo

Continued from Brewing Storm

I learned how to distance myself from the marital discord in my life. I disconnected from its negative energy and allowed it to flow past me without acknowledging its presence. The seasons moved through the calendar without my awareness yet I remained active in the outside world. I ‘felt’ the changes. I noticed it but discarded the information as if it had no meaning. Once in a while, an incident would slip into my consciousness and I would say something to Hubby – “what’s going on?” I would ask. “What do you mean?” he would reply. I tried to explain the ‘off’ feeling that was so strong – something was tugging at my heart silently.

There was a growing battle inside of my heart. I knew something had changed and yet every time I asked a question, I hit a blank wall. “Nothing has changed.”, “What are you talking about?”, “Stop trying to stir something up.”, “Get out of your head.”… It didn’t really matter what the question was, the answer was the same. I felt lost and numb most of the time. I wasn’t living authentically and my body knew it.

One evening I was working late on the computer in our home office and I thought I saw something in the window to my left. It was dark and only light from my computer screen lit the room. I turned my head quickly to look through the window and a wave of nausea hit me like a baseball to the stomach. I bent over in my chair and caught my breath while I tried to keep the bile from projecting across my desk. As long as I held still, the nausea was at bay but each time I moved my head, the room swam and disappeared from focus. I got scared. I could feel my heart beating in my chest and I knew that I didn’t want to be alone. I made it upstairs to wake Hubby but only after stumbling through the hall like a pinball across plastic bumpers. I wasn’t hurting myself but I couldn’t walk a straight line. I sat on the edge of the bed after waking him trying to describe the sensation I had of being suspended in a vat of thick oil. I knew I needed to be upright but I couldn’t seem to keep my orientation there. We opted on the side of caution after thirty or so minutes and went to the emergency room.

We had to wake our neighbor so that someone would be in the house with the kids and she, being the best’est kind of friend – was there right away. By sometime in the middle of the night, I was diagnosed with Labyrinthitis – a virus or bacterial infection that affects the vestibular nerve in the inner ear. I was told not to drive for up to three weeks. Wait, What? Does this man know my life? Is he kidding? Ha!…  He didn’t know that my right hand was away at college and my other right hand had to work all day – especially if I couldn’t! The vertigo didn’t go away. Any time I moved my head, actually – my eyes – my whole body would sway in a direction that my head didn’t want to go. It was often as if one part of me was pulling the other part of me around in circles. Just being in the passenger seat was difficult if I tried to look ahead on the road or out of the windshield at all. I mostly kept my eyes locked on the dashboard and concentrated on the dust there.

Twin two – Emma and her two darling little ones came to my rescue as they had when I had my hysterectomy and stayed with me for a week so that I had help with driving. Not only couldn’t I get to work and back but the girls were incredibly active in scouts, swim team, and friendships that kept me on the road as much as a traditional ‘soccer mom’. There was always someone who needed to be there by 6 while another one had to be picked up here at 5:45 and their locations were ten miles apart… or something like that. It was manageable IF one could just get in a car and travel the roads for an hour and a half a day. It was one of the many reasons that I was trying to get away from the office more – It seemed the older the girls got, the more they needed me at home. With another sister in town, it was that much more fun, at least for us girls. Hubby was way outnumbered. One of the events that I had to miss was a concert that Hubby and I had tickets for. He was a huge fan of one of the old Rock bands that were making their rounds in smaller local venues so he was unwilling to miss it when they came to town. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for him to buy tickets for each of the events if they were within a drivable distance. This night, mom stayed with me so that Emma and Abee could go too.

The twins arrived dressed in jeans and button down shirts, humming Rock & Roll favorites they had been listening to all afternoon. I will never forget the images as Hubby entered the room to greet them and he was also wearing jeans and a tucked in black button down shirt that appeared to match Abee’s black shirt perfectly. It was surreal and awkward and weird and I had a feeling it wasn’t a mistake or a coincidence. As I recall, there wasn’t time for conversation and truly, I was at a loss for words. The three of them left the house chatting excitedly and as I watched them climb into Hubby’s truck, something in my body shivered as if a universal vibration had just split or severed or breached.

Although my dizziness got better, my body was still experiencing indications that something was wrong. My heart would race uncontrollably for no apparent reason. I would frequently find it difficult to take a deep breath. I would get light-headed and feel the need to sit down. After all of the medical issues that mom and SD Frank had over the years, I basically hated going to doctors. It seemed as if there was always bad news and I didn’t realize it then, but I had become an ‘avoider’. My life was busy and I had no time for bad news or a slew of tests. I toughed it out each time that I would experience these body functions that I didn’t understand and dismissed them like most of the other things that I simply didn’t want to think about.

The holidays were approaching and I had things to do.

Looking at Layers

I took my responsibility for change seriously. I knew that I had to learn how to give in ways that I hadn’t before.

“I’m like an onion. You can peel away my layers, but the further you go, the more it’ll make you cry.”  ― Laura Carstairs-Waters

I really connected to this therapist and it turns out that a ‘connection’ with your counselor is vital to your healing. I tell my own clients this all the time; if there is no rapport, find a new one! Of course, one of the first things she wanted to know about is how my child hood was. I recounted the many moves, my parents’ divorce, my sibling connections, how I was a primary caregiver, etc., and praised the job my mom and dad did overall. I talked about how great it was to grow up in a small town and to see my parents happier with the partners they chose the second time around. I talked for almost the whole hour and her eyes got bigger and bigger as the clock ticked. I really do laugh about this today but then – I was dead serious. I thought I had a great childhood!! I was completely oblivious as to how my childhood shaped my thoughts, feelings, or perspective about the world. I just hadn’t ever given it a second thought. I was who I was and I had an image of who I needed to be. I strived to be that person regardless of the obstacles of distorted cognition’s that developed in childhood.  [We therapists are not looking back to BLAME anyone but to understand who the person on the couch really is – so many clues!] Nonetheless, she was wide eyed and I was smug. When I said, “it was great”, she said “well, OK then.” Little did I realize she was probably thinking about how much work there was to do!

I began to learn about myself bit by bit as she ‘peeled back’ the proverbial onion. I realized that I was a caregiver. Something that was blatantly obvious to many others was just being awakened in my consciousness. I knew that I always jumped in and took care of people but I never thought about why. I also learned that I took care of these people without regard to what I needed. In fact, I wasn’t aware of how to discern what my needs looked like and really wouldn’t for several more years. I realized that I did very little for myself and resentment of it lived in my subconscious, leaking out in the form of passive aggressive behavior more often that I would have liked to admit. I learned that I thought people would not like me if I said “no” to them. I had lots of thoughts really that were fairly misconstrued, some of which were based on ideas in my mind that were just plain false and others that I had due to some assumption that I had made over time. More on the specifics of these – later.

Most importantly, I learned how many of these things impacted my ability to be a good partner to my husband. I love to argue a point. I cherished my time on the debate team in school and probably should have become an attorney. I enjoy defending a position, especially if I feel like I am educated on the topic. In fact, my father and brothers are very much like me in that regard and I grew up in an environment where debating was the way that we communicated with one another on various levels. Well, Hubby did not. In actuality, Hubby felt like each time I entered into debate mode I was simply trying to be right, to run him down, to be better than or ‘one up’ him. That’s not what was happening in my mind – ever – but with counseling, I was able to see how my ‘debating’ behavior could have been interrupted in that manner. I never really cared to be right – only engage in the argument. Although, I will admit that I rarely entered into a full on debate unless I was certain of the information and the odds that I was ‘wrong’ were quite low.

I learned that having children was all consuming for me. I loved those kids to the moon and back – more really. They started my day with love and even though I was usually really ready for them to go to bed by eight, I tucked them each in with hugs and kisses, full of gratitude for their sweetness and genuine naiveté. Francis was growing into such a great young man, so self-sufficient and helpful. I was incredibly protective of him, often to the demise of Hubby’s discipline because I thought there was too much responsibility placed on him. Hubby was tough. He never had time to ‘grow into’ fatherhood – it just happened with my six-year-old. I believe that his interest was in developing character and integrity but our values on how to foster those qualities varied significantly and I often disagreed with his approach. As such, I became a defender and interfered perhaps too much (although I may do it again under the same conditions). The dedication with which I embarked on mothering used the majority of my ‘giving’ energy and generally left little for Hubby. On many occasions I recall asking him to be ‘an adult’ about this – that the children were only young for a while. In retrospect, I needed to assimilate ‘balance’ into this area of my life as well so that Hubby time was also a part of my day.

I learned also that I am a fast processor. I am quick on my feet to render information, decipher it, and respond on point. This, generally was in contrast to Hubby who had to think and consider what he heard before he could constitute a response that felt appropriate to him. Essentially, this made me ‘hot headed’ even though I didn’t have a temper per se, I sought a response quickly and would ‘chase’ down an answer. There was more than one occasion where I literally followed behind him demanding resolution with tone and frustration. It also was not perceived in the way that I intended but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I took my responsibility for change seriously. I knew that I had to learn how to give in ways that I hadn’t before. I was all geared up to be better, to be the wife that would be hard to walk away from, to be ‘all in’. It was possible that I had been ‘holding back’, unwilling to be completely and totally vulnerable in case something happened. I needed to be more open and emotionally available. I know I didn’t ’cause’ him to behavior poorly or cause him to be disrespectful but I was one half of this partnership and I wanted to own my part.

We learned about ourselves and about one another in so much as we were open to hearing. One can only absorb so much at a time. We both knew that we had to individually change some behaviors if our relationship was going to progress. I saw what I needed to do and I clearly communicated what elements I needed from him; fidelity, honesty, and respect. I think he tried, but it wasn’t meant to be.



All About Trust

Slowly, I began to trust. I trusted that this was my destiny; that all of the events leading to this point were divinely driven and therefore, worthy of my commitment.

“Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.” ~Lisa Weedn

I woke each morning to the sound of children. It was either an infant cry or a toddler’s chatter, or a young boy’s question. Francis would leave for school each morning with an energy that I coveted while I began a day of caring for baby girls only sixteen months apart. The joy they brought into my life cannot be exaggerated. Sara loved her baby sister and was gentle and caring, as if infant Erin was a thin piece of glass. She attempted to share everything she loved with this new sibling and would express frustration from time to time as baby just sat and smiled. Sara wanted to play.

Francis was the most amazing big brother and completely cherished by his little sisters. Sara would sit at the window and wait for him to appear on the sidewalk as he returned from school. I was also anxiously awaiting his return but for a completely different reason – I needed the help. By four in the afternoon I was in serious need of a break. As unfair as it may have been, Francis was my relief. Day after day, he accepted the responsibility of helping to care for his sisters, and ultimately, his mom. I always said he would grow up to be the most amazing father ever or a monk – having emptied all of his paternalistic caring resources before the age of twelve.

Our life was tremendously full. Each hour of the day was filled to the brim either working, raising children, little league, household responsibilities, or another of the seemingly million things that make a family function. I felt overwhelmed with a lack of time and emotional resources on a fairly regular basis. Hubby was a good provider and we had enough. Although he was a loving father, he had little patience for the chaos that existed in our evenings. Rarely was I able to get a break. My emotional tolerance was generally low by that time of night. Most of the time, by evenings end, my energy reserves were depleted completely; not Hubby’s.

During this time in our lives, conflicts were generally around the subject of how much vitality and vigor I had failed to reserve for him. It’s true that I was not educated, versed, or practiced in balancing my emotional stamina. I gave everything I had to give to my children and family life from six a.m. to eight p.m. and then, what I needed was sleep. I instinctively knew that I had an obligation, a responsibility to my relationship, to offer myself – not just sexually – but intellectually and emotionally, to my husband. I did the best I could. I would say yes to sex and try to appear motivated. It wasn’t honest. In fact, it was during this time that I trusted Meg Ryan’s famous example in the movie Harry Met Sally and just portrayed my best version of an orgasmic apex. I just didn’t have any more of myself to share. As it would in any relationship, my inability to divide my personal resources more effectively left my husband feeling unloved and unappreciated. I was unable to understand. In my mind, I needed him to be supportive, helpful, and understanding. I didn’t experience any of those things and quite the contrary, I just felt as though one more person was making demands on my day. I did what I had to do in order to have peace at the end of the night.

Stress was taking a toll on our relationship. Hubby dealt with it by drinking and smoking, I just got mad and ugly. Since he was unable (or unwilling) to stop smoking, I became passive aggressive and stopped telling him I loved him. He would say it to me and my reply was mostly “thank you”. It wasn’t one of my best decisions. The distance between us grew until we decided to try marriage counseling.

Faith was still very dominant in our life and so we opted for a Christian therapist. I recall the church, the room, and vaguely, the man. He held a bible on his lap and let us know that God believed in our union. He heard each of our perspectives and offered some bible passages that spoke to the sanctity of marriage. I felt shame. There, in that church office, a Christian environment, without substantial feedback, all I remember feeling is how much at fault I was for withholding love from the man I committed to cherish. I didn’t wait until we got to the car before I turned to Hubby with tears and extreme humility to say how sorry I was. I was sorry for not being a better wife, for withholding words of affection, for not being stronger. I pledged to try harder and to find a way to bring more balance into my life so that I could be there for him. I’m not sure if we ever went back.

Slowly, I began to trust. I trusted that this was my destiny; that all of the events leading to this point were divinely driven and therefore, worthy of my commitment. I looked at my family each evening and saw that I was blessed; that life was full. I was beginning to understand the concept of submission in a way that I had been unable to this point. I was submitting not to Hubby directly, but to life, to God’s will. I was embracing where I was and the people with whom I was sharing life.

In the summer of 1994 Hubby went out west with his brothers to participate in a Scouting event near and dear to their hearts. He arranged to make a couple of side trips to the Colorado mountains and was excited about them. I arranged to make a hearty road trip with my mother and three children through the New England area. We were going to be camping at KOA camps (in cabins) for most of the journey and being as organized and particular as I was – it was mapped out in detail as if I was preparing to perform a surgical procedure on a mass of spider veins. We drove the highway all the way up to Skowhegan, Maine but never again – over the course of two weeks – hit a main freeway. Without going into explicit detail of each day, let’s just say that it was an amazing journey with people I love. It offered my children and me an opportunity to spend marvelous time with my mother. Not only did we see beautiful and amazing parts of our country, but we had the opportunity to have quality time together that has yet to be replicated.

During this time away, I took the opportunity to write to Hubby each night, sharing our day’s journey and the highlights along the way. My intention was to embody the spirit of participation in our experiences similar to the letters I wrote Rocky when he was overseas when Francis was an infant. I also used those letters to express my love and support for our family, for our marriage. It was an excellent time of reflection and it offered me time to seriously evaluate the life I wanted to live; the life I wanted for our family; the dreams we hoped to manifest.

Both Hubby and I had rolls and rolls of photographs to develop (back in the day we actually had to turn in film) and we turned them in for processing together. After picking them up, it was fun for us to sit down and share our travels, to swap stories about our time apart. One by one, we flipped through the photographs and laughed or ohh’ed and ahh’ed over the incredible scenery each of us had seen. One photo in particular caught my attention. It was of him, alone – in a time WAY before selfies were possible or a ‘thing’ – it was a full body photograph of Hubby against a backdrop of mountains. He explained how he had gone back to that trail without his brothers for a couple of days, to fully experience the intensity of nature in that part of the world. He continued to tell me that his time there on the first part of the trip hadn’t been complete and here was this photo, taken by another traveler on the trail. He looked happy.

Something about his picture disturbed me.