#VoicesofTherapy: What Happens in Couples Therapy
Barack and I loved each other deeply, but it was as if at the center of our relationship there were suddenly a knot we couldn’t loosen…
Barack was reluctant at first to try couples counseling. He was accustomed to throwing his mind at complicated problems and reasoning them out on his own. Sitting down in front of a stranger struck him as uncomfortable, if not a tad dramatic. Couldn’t he just run over to Borders and buy some relationship books? Weren’t there discussions we could have on our own?
But I wanted to really talk, and to really listen, and not to do it late at night or during hours we could be together with the girls.
The few people I knew who’d tried couples counseling and were open enough to talk about it said that it had done them some good. And so I booked us an appointment with a downtown psychologist who came recommended by a friend, and Barack and I went to see him a handful of times.
Our counselor—Dr. Woodchurch, let’s call him—was a soft-spoken white man who’d gone to good universities and always wore khakis. My assumption was that he would hear what Barack and I had to say and then instantly validate all my grievances. Because every last one of those grievances was, as I saw it, absolutely valid. I’m going to guess that Barack might have felt the same way about his own grievances.
This turned out to be the big revelation for me about counseling: No validating went on. No sides were taken. When it came to our disagreements, Dr. Woodchurch would never be the deciding vote. Instead, he was an empathic and patient listener, coaxing each of us through the maze of our feelings, separating out our weapons from our wounds. He cautioned us when we got too lawyerly and posited careful questions intended to get us to think hard about why we felt the way we felt.
Slowly, over hours of talking, the knot began to loosen. Each time Barack and I left his office, we felt a bit more connected.
—an excerpt from Becoming by Michelle Obama (Image from Pete Souza, The White House)
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