Mary came in to the counseling room and began the session with the statement, “I’ve been very depressed and anxious for the last few months. My doctor gave me something and told me I should talk to somebody. That’s why I called you.”
“What’s going on?” I asked as she started to weep.
She paused and shook her head slowly back and forth and held her breath for a few seconds and said, “I promised myself I wasn’t going to do this.”
“It’s okay,” I said, “that’s why you’re here. I have several boxes of tissues in the closet if we run out of tissues in this one.”
“I think my husband is having an affair,” she blurted. “We’ve been married 18 years.”
“How long has this been going on?” I ask gently.
“Oh, a year or two,” she says somewhat sheepishly.
“A year or two,” I say evenly. “And why now are you having symptoms and seeking help?”
“Well, I don’t know for sure. We pretend that things are okay, and for the most part they are if I don’t question anything, but it got so I just couldn’t ignore it any more. If you really want to know, one of my friends saw them together at a restaurant in the next town over about two months ago and asked me about it. I was embarrassed. I didn’t know what to say. I suppose if he’s discreet, I could let it go, but when my friends know, and I pretend I don’t, I look foolish, you know, like I don’t know what’s going on in my own home, in my own marriage, and I do, even if I would like to think that I don’t. Does that make any sense? It’s crazy isn’t it? Tell me the truth. Please! I need someone to tell me the truth, not make me believe one thing when it’s really another.”
“Oh, it seems to me that you know very well what’s going on even though you and he deny it. Knowing the truth is not the problem. It’s how are you going to handle the truth when the cat is out of the bag. That scares people. They don’t want to think about it. Us therapists talk sometimes with clients about the risk of change. People want things different. They know things can’t go on as they have been, but they are afraid of the future, of what might happen if they call a spade a spade and take the bull by the horns. Things will never be the same again, couldn’t be even if they wanted them to be, because now they know, they are aware, and they can’t go back to being ignorant again. That’s why they say ‘ignorance is bliss.’ If you didn’t really know any better it wouldn’t bother you, but when you know it is disturbing and the symptoms of depression and anxiety, or sometimes anger and irritability, emerge.”
“So what do I do?” she asked.
“I would guess you have plenty of options all with advantages and disadvantages. I might take a while to sort them out before you can decide what your best course of action will be. For today, let me just say to you. ‘You’re not crazy. Your fears and confusion and embarrassment are not crazy. It’s normal to feel this way when disillusionment sets in and it is becoming clearer and clearer to you that you don’t have the marriage that you thought you had or you wanted. And so there is a big loss no matter what happens next. But you’re okay. You’re not nuts. You’ll figure out what’s in your longer term best interest, I’m confident. Our time for today is almost up. Is there anything else you wanted to cover in our first session? Anything in particular you wanted to walk out the door with?”
“I feel better just getting this off my chest and having someone I can talk to honestly about it. Can I see you again?” she said.
“That’s a great idea. When would be a good time for you?”