If you read my blog, well…ever…you know I love to compare things and find the shared meaning. Dang if this one doesn’t work perfectly.
Starting about ten years ago, I’d limp into a podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon’s office every couple of years to have someone, anyone, look at my foot and get me some relief from the pain in the ball of it. For nine of those years, they said they weren’t quite sure what was wrong with it–probably a little overuse, probably a little arthritis, but try wearing sensible shoes, wearing orthotic shoe inserts, taking ibuprofen, blah, blah, blah.
If that isn’t a metaphor for living with some undefined, and occasionally painful, issue in your relationship, I’m not sure what is.
Last year, I started walking and hiking a lot more than usual. Over time, that same aggravated area got even more painful, even more swollen, even more red, and took even more time to return to normal after using it.
It was like having a relationship crisis. The turning away in bed at night, the silent scowls, and the terse text responses. The complaining about the relationship to close friends, the searching online for something…answers, the right questions to ask, a connection from high school, or a new hairstyle or workout routine. The affair.
I found some possible answers for my foot issue online and sought out a specialist. Within a short time after looking at my X-rays and manipulating my toe joints, he had an answer. This foot needed surgery. It wasn’t like I needed the procedure yesterday, but I needed it soon or the joint would be irreparable, stiff, and frozen. It would cause daily, low-level irritation.
Seriously, I’m not even going to spell out how that translates to relationship stuff because it’s SO OBVIOUS.
Enter the surgery. I got a synthetic cartilage implant (e.g. therapeutic intervention) and a bone realignment (e.g. emotional insight).
I went into it perfectly ambulatory and functioning well enough. I came out of it with a blue cast on my foot, instructions to take five different medications on some schedule that my post-anesthesia brain couldn’t track, a pair of crutches, a scooter, a temporary disabled parking pass, and a lot of unknowns. Like, how was I going to navigate midnight bathroom breaks? How quickly could I go back to work? How much was it going to hurt after the meds wore off? Would I gain weight or muscle?
So many unknowns. A drastic change.
Then the pain and the gravity of what I’d done set in and, much like the arc of perceived therapeutic benefit dips after the first few sessions, my certainty about the decision to have surgery waned after day five. I hated the crutches. I hated the scooter almost more. I hated the rubber leg condom I had to carefully pull over my heavy and sore foot. I hated standing on my good leg for almost everything. I hated working up a tremendous sweat just trying to get dressed or undressed. I hated trying to remember where to put my crutches so they were handy while I transitioned from the scooter. I HATED trying to get into the garage and pack things in my car. Hop, hop, hop, hop, HOP. HOP. HOP.
Regarding couples’ therapy, one of a handful of things happens when the couple hits that point in their work. They outright quit (“That therapist didn’t know anything. What a waste.”). They take a break (“I had a work conference come up and we’re going to need to skip the next few weeks. We’ll call when we’re ready to reschedule…”).
And, sometimes, they stick it out, cry, get angry, and push through the tough questions they have to ask themselves and each other. They start to trust the process and do the at-home work.
Okay, with foot surgery, you don’t have a lot of options to quit or fade away. And the trust is still hard to come by…
Day 15: There’s no way my incision will ever be anything but a crumpled, scabby eyesore. I’ll never bend my toe again–OMG SOMETHING MUST HAVE GONE TERRIBLY WRONG!
Day 32: I think I’ll go dancing, post-surgical boot and all. I can’t wait until day 60 when I can wear a real shoe again! Life is great! What hiking trips can we take this summer?
ALL of this is to say that the process of getting help that is needed, but not critically so, during a time that is somewhat less inconvenient than other times (that’s to say, no time was convenient to be off my foot for six weeks), depicts crazy-well the process of seeking help for a relationship:
Something’s off, but no one’s having an affair yet; it’s really hard to fit counseling sessions into work/school/extracurriculars/travel/self-care time/gym workouts, etc.
But in the end…what if getting help was worth it? What if things will get much better?
P.s. The best part of this metaphor—feet work independently, but they work best in relationship with the other foot, right?
Jenni McBride McNamara, MA LAMFT is the owner of TouchingTrees Counseling, a private practice in St. Paul that specializes in Discernment Counseling, decoupling counseling, and post-divorce wellness.
The above article is a commentary piece. Opinions expressed in the MAMFT NEWS do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editors or of MAMFT.