Life

FOUR DATES, ONE THERAPIST

Marriage counselling used to be for couples who were married. Not anymore.

REBECCA ECKLER November 7 2005
Life

FOUR DATES, ONE THERAPIST

Marriage counselling used to be for couples who were married. Not anymore.

REBECCA ECKLER November 7 2005

FOUR DATES, ONE THERAPIST

Life

Marriage counselling used to be for couples who were married. Not anymore.

REBECCA ECKLER

AT AGE 28, Jessica (all names have been changed), who works in publishing, and her 32-year-old boyfriend Mike, a businessman, starting seeing a marriage counsellor at Jessica’s request. Neither Jessica nor Mike, who had been dating for 14 months, were thinking about getting married or even engaged. They simply wanted to stop fighting constantly. “The therapist did help,” says Jessica, who lives in Toronto. “He taught us ways to fight better, if that makes sense. Of course, we did end up arguing over who had to

pay the bill. I thought we should go 50-50, but he thought that because it was me who wanted to go, I should be the one to pay.” The relationship didn’t last. “We weren’t good for each other,” she says. “Therapy helped me realize that.”

Sally, 33, a lawyer, and her ex-boyfriend Fred, who works in banking and who is also 33, went to a marriage counsellor after two years of dating. “Looking back, it was a red flag that something was not right in the relationship. It was his idea to go. But he didn’t want to continue because he thought the therapist was siding too much with me,” says Sally. “We would talk about a fight we had the night before and I think because he was seeing her individually as well, he thought she would have more of an alliance with him, which wasn’t the case, and that made him even more frustrated and angry and harder to live with.” After a brief engagement, they broke up. “I don’t think it helped us at all, but it was worth a shot.”

Toronto psychotherapist and couples coach Catherine Wood says she has more and more twentysomething couples making appointments to see her. “People have been scared by years and years of hearing about divorce statistics. They realize this isn’t an illusive thing. They realize that that could be them,” she says. Brian Zelt, a Calgary psychologist, agrees that couples dating today have grown up hypersensitive to divorce. “They don’t want to go through that.” Wood charges $120 an hour (therapists charge anywhere from $100 to $180 anhour) and couples come to her for periods ranging from three to 10 sessions. “It’s always the million-dollar question—how long will they have to come see me,” she says. The contentious issues are fairly standard: affairs, sex,

money, in-laws, friends, how much time they spend together.

One of the first questions she asks a couple is, “Do you want to get out, or do you want to work on it?” They come to see her because “either they’ve made a poor selection and choice in person, or they simply don’t have good communication skills with one another, or it’s a combination of both.”

Jocelyn, 36, and Kyle, 37, both artists in Calgary, went to a couples therapist while they were dating. “We had moved in together and all the sparks seemed gone. I knew I still loved him, and I knew he still loved me. But he started becoming, how shall I say, way more friendly with another woman than I felt comfortable with. We broke up for four days over it, and realized we were both miserable. But I had trust issues after that. It was my mother who suggested we see someone. I think if I had brought up everything I wanted to say at home, we would have ended

up in a miserable fight.” It worked for them. Three months later, they eloped. They’ve now been married for almost two years.

William Cooke, a Toronto social worker and registered marriage and family therapist, says one reason more and more young couples are seeking counselling is because the whole phenomenon of therapy has become “more of a resource, like having a financial planner, or personal trainer.” But there is only so much a couples counsellor can do. “People will come in and ask, Ts he the right one for me?’ or wonder if they should ‘stay in it,’ ” Cooke says. “That’s not the therapist’s job. The therapist is there solely to help them get the tools to figure that out on their own. We’re not plumbers who can easily fix the problem.”

More and more of his clients are also couples in their 20s and early 30s, not married and not intending to marry. “Another group that’s growing is people getting out of relationships who see me before they get into their next one, so as to not make the same mistakes.” Cooke says that in 75 per cent of the young couples he sees, the woman has initiated the sessions. Couples in therapy, he says, tell couple friends who are fighting they should see a therapist, and “that’s why it’s caught on.”

Sally says she wouldn’t go to couples therapy again. “It made me really uncomfortable. Especially when he started asking about our sex lives. I know sex can be an issue, but the therapist was a man. I was like, ‘Hello? I don’t want to talk about my sex life with two men!’ ”

Jessica doesn’t share her opinion. “A healthy relationship is the most important thing in a person’s life. We spend hours and hours and hundreds of dollars fixing our hair and our bodies,” she says. “To spend a few hours and a few hundred bucks on something that could last the rest of your life? What’s wrong with that?” Jessica is still single. “I have to meet a guy I really like before I take him to therapy. I’ll know I really want to make it work with someone when that happens.” fïl