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Getting Alone Time

My family is on the therapy train right now, including couple therapy for me and my husband. He’s a really nice guy — the couple therapist. He has us reading a lot and doing plenty of homework and exercises. For instance, we learned to listen to each other (or should I say re-learned), handing a scrap of carpet back and forth. (If you have the carpet, you have the floor.) We had to take a quiz to find out our love languages. We initiated “time outs” where everything stops and we disengage immediately if we find ourselves heading towards a fight. I won’t sugarcoat it, though. This is real work. I dread going each week to the point that my vestibular migraines, which have settled down a bit, flare up on the way to the office.

Last week we spent a lot of time talking about the reason we started going as well as the need to build up intimacy and friendship. This culminated with the therapist asking us what we did together as a couple. We looked at each other and started rattling off our days. Before we could get to the end of the very long lists — work, driving the kids to sports, helping the little one with homework, cleaning up after dinner, beach club meetings, helping at the school store, being the president of our beach club, Girl Scout meetings, teaching religion — the therapist commented on our lack of alone time. “What do you do to nurture your relationship,” he asked. “Where is your alone time?”

The answer is complicated. We have two kids, we both work and we both volunteer. Our kids are very involved in extracurricular activities. When they are home and we are home, too, the girls want to be with us. For example, last Saturday we ate dinner together and had a family game night, playing Quirkle and Rummicube. It was a lovely evening, but when we were done and the kids were in bed my husband went one way and I went upstairs to listen to an audiobook. Even our occasional outings are shared with other people. If we go out we typically go out with friends. A party here. A dinner there. We rarely if ever do anything one-on-one. Yes, we occasionally try grabbing lunch together, but it’s rushed. He’s got to get back to the office within an hour, and I’m typically distracted thinking about the story I have sitting on my desktop or the webinar that’s starting at 2 p.m.

After listening to our excuses, the therapist gave us an ultimatum of sorts. Unless we started doing things just for us, WITH just us, it didn’t really make sense to keep seeing him. He told us yes, we could learn to mediate our arguments better, and our individual therapies would help us continue working on our own issues and problems. However, without alone time — the glue that binds couples — we weren’t ever going to get to the place we want to be.

We walked out after the session, rushing back to work. (We even go to therapy during the work day because it’s nearly impossible to get out at night during the week.) Later on as we were lying in bed, we talked about it. We didn’t realize how little time we spent together as a couple. We didn’t know that — between kids and work and other responsibilities — we were living in the same house but living parallel lives. While this arrangement might work for some couples, it obviously isn’t working for us anymore. Hence, the therapy.

That was last Tuesday. Since then, we’ve been trying to spend more time together. It isn’t easy. We took a few walks at night. We’ve gone to Trader Joe’s together. We sat in the car for the 15 minutes before my little one’s soccer game with my husband reading our latest homework assignment out loud. We grab snippets of time here and there whenever we can.

So what’s the future going to hold? I don’t know. I don’t have anything pithy or smart to say, especially since I know we’re only at the beginning. We have a very long, very steep road to go down. I will say that our actual walks have been lovely. It’s so nice to move along together — literally and figuratively. I find myself looking forward to grabbing our dog’s leash and heading out into the cool night air. I feel hopeful.

I also feel determined. As the old adage goes, marriage, like life, is not a destination. It’s a journey. Here’s hoping that we make it to the end together one day at a time.

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