“We never have sex anymore,” my new client, the mother of an 11-month-old, tells me plaintively. “Is that normal?” Her husband stares at the floor like he’s waiting for a shot: Just let it be over quickly.
“That’s definitely normal,” I reassure them.
“And our conversations have gotten so boring,” she continues. “We don’t have time to really talk. Or we’re too nervous to really talk. We’re always on alert. At any minute, we can get interrupted. Our son will need something.”
“That’s normal, too.” Is it ever. Though my little interrupter happens to be a female, nearly ten months old, I know what my client is talking about. Intimately. I debate whether to share that with her.
Personal disclosures always have to be in the interest of the client. It can’t just be because the therapist wants to cry out, “My husband and I had sex once in the past month! We had a good conversation two weeks ago Tuesday when Daisy fell asleep during a walk! We have no local family! We need a date!” I guess where I’m lucky is that I know these struggles are normal. Sometimes that realization alone makes life better, sometimes…not so much.
People did tell me that the first years with a child would be hard on me, and on my marriage. Between well-meaning friends and my exposure to myriad parents in my line of work, I didn’t suffer for a dearth of information. But there’s intellectually knowing something will be hard, and then there’s really knowing it. As in, living it. Every day.
Not that I’m complaining. (Well, not exactly.) My husband and I tried for a good while to have Daisy, and we are inordinately grateful for her. We love her profoundly. The dilemma is, we also love each other, and there isn’t always a lot of time or space to express that, surely not in the same ways we used to. We fought hard for our relationship, going through couples therapy ourselves some years back, and we want to maintain it. Therein lies the challenge.
The kind of therapy we underwent is the same kind I practice: emotionally focused therapy (EFT.) It’s based on the science of attachment. I write “science” because there are many studies to back up the idea that attachment is crucial. And what attachment is, simply, is the initial, emotional bond between a parent and a child. When that bond is strong and secure, it serves as a positive template for later relationships. If a child feels, deep down, that a parent will always be there, then that child is more likely to go on to have healthy adult relationships.
So EFT is about creating a secure bond between partners, even if those people did not experience that as children. The way to do that is by encouraging emotional expression in sessions, by helping couples to express themselves vulnerably and have their needs met. It’s an amazing thing to witness, like being a midwife. It’s what I hope to bring about for the clients I mentioned above.
That’s another way I’m lucky. I like my work. I also like my daughter, and my husband. And yet, I’ve been no stranger to depression and anxiety since she was born. This blog isn’t me saying that I have it all figured out, because of what I do for a living. I’m going to write about the process of figuring it out, as I live it, while drawing on my professional knowledge and clinical experiences.
It’ll also be about how people can remain attached to each other and to themselves through all the stress of contemporary life, because I believe there’s nothing more important or stronger or better in this world than the bonds we nurture.
Thanks for reading! I hope I’ll keep you coming back.