Couples Therapy

by Eliza Smith

Adapted from the Relationship Institute’s Couples Intake Questionnaire, written by Steven D. Solomon, Ph.D. and Lorie J. Teagno, Ph.D.

Q: What is the problem that led you to couples therapy?
A: I woke up last Thursday and realized that I didn’t want to be married anymore. 

Q: How long have you and your partner been together? In what form? 
A: Married for five months. Engaged for eleven. Dated for one year before that. But first the MySpace flirtation, three or four weeks.  

Q: What initially attracted you to your partner?
A: Sarah Jones liked him, and I wanted anything Sarah Jones had. Also, he told me he was moving to California soon, and I liked that he was getting away.   

Q: What was the beginning of your relationship like, and how long did this phase last?
A: That part was nice. We started dating in the summer. His parents were in Hawaii; my mother worked nights. We dragged his mattress to the living room floor and listened to fireworks (in Missouri summers, people light fireworks for weeks, just to hear something new).

He wasn’t like anyone I’d dated. He was twenty and didn’t go to college. He listened to music I’d never heard of; his friends had skate ramps in their backyards and smoked a lot of weed. He didn’t smoke weed, or drink. He said he wanted to show kids they could be part of this lifestyle without getting into all that. 

He took me to his church, which was different from my last one. The pastor was young and wore jeans and wasn’t related to me, which means he didn’t use my life in his sermons—like how my mother let me watch sex scenes in movies, which was obviously a sin, or how having too much of anything other than God meant we were creating false gods (this included pets).

But you wanted to know about my partner and me: we adopted a ferret. I loved the way the colors of its fur marbled together, how it seemed to be boneless—the way it could bend backward and it didn’t seem to hurt. One day, my partner looked out the window and saw a small white creature roaming in his yard. He went to see what the thing was: a tame ferret someone must have cast outside when they got tired of it. The two ferrets were happy together. I didn’t create false gods out of them, though I made one out of my partner. 

Q: What happened that first caused you to feel disillusioned with your partner? 
A: Don’t you find it strange that we can only define words with more words? I looked up disillusioned and it was explained as disappointed, dissatisfied. Disappointed gave me “defeated in expectation or hope” and also obsolete: “not adequately equipped.” I think those are the words you’re looking for. 

Q: How are the two of you similar and how are you different?
A: He likes to sit side-by-side at restaurants; I don’t, but I pretend to. He throws his body down handrails and hopes to be famous; there are days I can’t get out of bed. We are similar in that we’re both desperately lonely, and we thought we could fix that for each other. 

Q: Does your partner get angry with you? Do you get angry with him?
A: He’s only been angry with me for refusing sex too often. I only get angry about the standing water he leaves on the bathroom counter. 

Q: How long has it been since things were good between the two of you? 
A: They were pretty good during our second summer, when I was pregnant. We went to see our pastor and he said get married and we said okay. My partner got a full-time job designing skate parks. He proposed to me from the trunk of his Honda on the Fourth of July. 

He was gone most of that summer, traveling for contests, and I was going to parenting classes for diaper vouchers and the hospital to have my hormone levels checked and the social worker to keep my Medicaid benefits and the local college for freshman orientation—and he wasn’t there for the last, silent ultrasound, though he did buy a plane ticket home, and my friends said that was very romantic. And then I bled and cramped and dilated and bought a wedding dress and went to the emergency room for morphine, as much of it as they’d give me.

Nothing was the same, after. I was defeated in expectation or hope; I was not adequately equipped. 

Q: What do you do when there is conflict between the two of you? What does your partner do?
A: Once, when I was six or seven, my parents were screaming at each other while I was reading on the couch, so I went to the closet and pulled out a pair of shooting range earmuffs and slid them over my head. They rested on my shoulders, but the ear-covering parts were big enough to cover my ears. I thought my parents might come out of the kitchen and laugh at the sight of me. I thought they might see how ridiculous their fight was. They didn’t. My father threw a box of cereal at my mother’s head, and the misshapen marshmallows clung to the surface of the refrigerator. My mother slept in jail that night.

We don’t need shooting range earmuffs in our apartment. I’d rather have silence than that. 

Q: Describe your sexual relationship. What do you find most satisfying about it? 
A: He is always on top, I am always in pain (more so, after the surgery). He stops when I ask him to, which I suppose you could call satisfying. 

Q: Do you enjoy being involved in activities separate from your partner? What do you like to do in those situations?
A: I catch the wild kittens that live outside our apartment building and try to tame them, then give them away on Craigslist. Sometimes they refuse to be tamed, or sometimes I don’t have the energy to try. I lock them away in the guest bedroom, and when I go in to feed them, they stare at me from the cat tree as if I’m holding them hostage.
Between classes, I walk to my car and crawl into the backseat. I hide between the tinted windows, swallow heat through the cracked leather. You could say that I enjoy these things.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you still love your partner? 
A: We went through something big together. Does that count as love? I stood in a church and promised to love him through sickness and health, but I was deep in sickness at the time, if you’ll go with me here and count grief as sickness—nineteen years of twisted grief that rooted inside my chest until it finally wasted my heart. I married him despite all that, or I married him because of all that. I love him. I’ve quit loving him. I never did.  

Q: What role have you played in contributing to the problems in your relationship? 
A: I married him when I knew I shouldn’t. I married him though I wanted so many times to leave. I married him so I could have another baby someday. I married him so I didn’t have to be alone. I played the part of a happy bride—I could tell by the way my sister cried that I’d fooled them all—and I didn’t even make it six months before I had to admit the sham of it. Do I regret that I took him down with me? Of course I do. But this is the kindness I can offer now: I can dissemble us piece by piece and burn what’s left. I can admit that I was a monster, and also that I was doing the best I could. And I can do it quickly, because quickness is mercy, and it’s a long drive to California.  

Q: If your relationship were a book, how would it end?

Eliza Smith lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared in The Offing, Essay Daily, Indiana Review, and The Pinch.