Couples Counseling

A vacation period as defined by therapists and couples counselors is a time frame that generally occurs at the onset of a romance. It is thought that its actual length is dependent on the two individuals involved — one couple’s may last a week, another’s may last for a year. Therapists and couples counselors characterize the vacation period by referring to an almost desperate euphoria when in each others’ presence, a desire to somehow physically merge, a deep-seated experience of protectiveness. It is thought by some that the vacation period represents Falling In Love; the accuracy of this belief is unverifiable. I was reading a TC submission the other day, in my new apartment, in a new city, and I came across two successive sentences that are, coincidentally, exactly the same two successive lines in a song by WHY? I used to listen to that sometimes made me cry a little. After the vacation period it is generally expected that a couple will experience a “fall from grace” — a dip below equilibrium, two people disillusioned by an unexpected loss of passion and excitement and the awareness of this loss, how disappointing that feels. Then the couples either break up or they don’t; in the latter case they are often heard describing to their couples counselors an abstract “something” that has gone “missing,” their facial expressions earnestly confused and dismayed, frustrated with this unexplainable new presence or lack thereof. The fallout associated with this “something” that goes “missing” is one of the most common reasons post-vacation period couples seek couples counseling in fact. Often therapists must not only attempt to address whatever the couples perceive as having gone missing but also the anger and disillusionment that are consequences of the supposed complexity of the process of how something went missing at all, and how exactly it so suddenly eluded the couple — its disappearance against the will of the couple itself, in direct contradiction to what the couple feels is the point of their relationship. Some couples initially approach relationship therapists unable to articulate that something has been lost, others arrive at their first sessions with theories regarding core personality traits, childhood trauma, and a mess of cause-and-effect logic that’s altogether impossible to make sense out of.

I know this girl who puts spells on things. If we’re having dinner together, she casts a spell over it by insisting that all the plates match, that the glasses coordinate with the plates, that the silverware be set on the cloth napkins, that everything we might possibly need be on the table, that classical music is playing on the radio at the right volume, and that both of us are seated before we start eating. If we have wine together, she casts a spell over it by lighting candles and adjusting the amount of electric light and putting on Pavarotti or Charlie Parker or Nick Drake or Beirut or WHY? and sitting on the couch with her glass and looking out the window and patting the cushion next to her and asking me to sit there. One of the many spells she has for her kitchen is this system for dishtowels in which certain towels, according to where they are located (on the stove handle, on the small kitchen towel rack, on the refrigerator handle), are meant for either drying your hands, drying dishes, or cleaning dirty surfaces. She can even cast spells on mundanities, like walking to the store, by buying a small hot chocolate on the way and insisting on doting over it, sharing it with me in equal proportions. Just like everyone is alone, this girl is alone, regardless of whether or not she’s surrounded by people who love her. She’s going to die, but she’s maybe more aware of it than most others, and putting spells on her most immediate surroundings provides her an aspect of control which I think translates to a feeling of security and “home,” maybe a feeling of distance from death, or the idea that when death comes, it’ll be easier to bear.

Post-vacation period couples typically seek relationship therapy as a last resort, the vast majority having reported feeling “beaten” and “ready to give up” when questioned about their decision to pursue it. This is because seeking couples counseling requires the emotionally difficult tasks of first articulating and accepting the premise that the relationship is “failing” — a term wide open for interpretation — second, admitting to and accepting pathetic feelings of helplessness in regards to their ability to “fix” — a term wide open for interpretation — their problems, and third, placing all their faith in a savior called Couples Counseling, publicly groveling at its feet despite any reservations or embarrassment they may feel about the similarities between their supposed new faith and the bovine attitudes of newly converted evangelical Christians. The song by WHY? that I used to listen to that sometimes made me cry a little, whose two successive lines are coincidentally in a TC submission that I read the other day in my new apartment, in a new city, is called “Light Leaves,” off the LP Elephant Eyelash, released by Anticon in 2005. Additional to the first step of admitting there exists a problem critical to the relationship’s success, often making post-vacation period couples’ therapy-seeking experience even more difficult is problematic indecision regarding which type of counselor to hire. It is believed that there are two types of therapist, both of which can be explained by simple analogy. The “passive” therapist sits in the passenger seat of the car, letting the clients drive. The therapist suggests points of significance along the way and asks the clients if they’re interested in exploring them. The clients can accept or reject the therapist’s suggestions; ultimately, the clients make all the decisions. The “active” therapist drives the car while the clients sit in the passenger seat. The therapist drives to points of significance regardless of the clients’ wishes (unless they are strong), urging the clients to participate as much as possible in exploring these points in an earnest manner. It is not unlikely that one partner of a post-vacation period couple prefers a passive therapist while the other prefers an active one. This discrepancy can produce measurable discord.

I have this thing that happens to me in novel situations, my personality sort of changes. I become a person more similar to my idealized version of myself. I perceive myself as becoming way more charismatic and likable and desirable when for example I’ve just moved to a new city for a job editing a website where I already have a built-in network of individuals eager to meet and like me. Completely new contexts in the presence of consistent validation from new and interesting people seem to free my personality from parts of itself that I detest. I believe that I’ve gained irrevocably enhanced clarity on social interaction, and I forget, for example, that I’ve just broken up with someone with whom I lived in a small studio apartment in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for three years, with whom I worked on a farm for two years, who cried when she saw flamenco in an impossibly small, crowded jazz club in Barcelona, who I freaked out over and cried about and lied to and whose parents hated me and who loved Pavarotti and Charlie Parker and Nick Drake and Beirut and WHY? with me and shaved me in the shower and worked the farmers market with me and about whom my best friend looked at me serious and said “Don’t be a dumbass” when I was talking with him at the Redwood about maybe breaking up with her and who had this funny system of dishtowels in our kitchen that I could never get the hang of. Somehow I don’t process the loss of anything like that in novel situations, somehow I’m just excited and free — I actually will think things like “Wow I’m handling this well, this is super easy,” and “I did a good job preparing myself.” There is no principle involved; the sudden up in charisma and positivity isn’t by design. But following each of these personality-change events is an eventual but inevitable loss of clarity. As if some program inside my personality had suddenly and unexpectedly shut down, I become aware that I simply don’t know how to think, feel and act as I did not a week before. Things aren’t exciting anymore. All the charisma and positivity just sort of fizzles out.

It is thought by some that one of the concrete manifestations marking the end of the vacation period is the unforeseen arrival of difficulties with sex. As is admitting to needing relationship therapy, this is something that is typically difficult for couples to discuss, and not just because the very suddenness of the onset of sexual problems is itself cause for bafflement. Many couples consider their sex life to be a reliable barometer of the health — a term wide open for interpretation — of their relationship — indeed, many relationship therapists are cognizant of and embrace this notion themselves. Post-vacation period couples can therefore find it extremely troubling to bring sexual problems into the relationship’s ongoing dialogue, whether or not sexual behavior and relationship health — a term wide-open for interpretation — are indeed significantly correlated: to address such issues is to acknowledge that the relationship is perhaps failing in a manner over which the couple seemingly has no control. For post-vacation period couples who are particularly codependent, this can be an extremely frightening thing to do, and so it’s common for them to participate in several therapy sessions before being able to discuss their sex life. But when couples counselors are able to get them to speak candidly about their sexual problems, a blanket-statement is, typically, immediately issued: “I just don’t feel like it anymore,” “It seems like all the passion is gone,” “It just doesn’t feel right,” etc. After further prodding and cajoling by the couples counselor, each party eventually reports specifics: “I don’t know what to do — it’s like when she knows I want to make love she seizes up, she almost cringes now when I touch her–” “There’s really nothing wrong with the relationship — I love him and want to be with him, we’re so good together, it’s why this is so frustrating, because it doesn’t make any sense at all–” “[Speaking to the therapist] You’re not going to be able to tell us to do anything. I mean, you’re not going to be able to be like ‘Instead of trying to have sex next time, why don’t you spend a lot of time on foreplay?’ That isn’t going to work, because it’s like if sex even enters our shared consciousness it’s immediately over, everything shuts off and becomes awkward, it’s toxic, thinking of having sex is basically preventative of having the sex itself–” “I need him to just take me and have it not be full of thoughts, it needs to be spontaneous–” etc. After recounting specific emotional experiences such as the above, couples counselors generally attempt to explore “deeper” issues which may or may not strike at the core of the post-vacation period couple’s newfound problems with sex. Ultimately, it is not yet known if sexual chemistry is tied to logical problem solving, “figuring out” or “accepting” deep-seated emotional complexities and “open” communication — as is promoted by couples counseling — or if it is more positively correlated with sexual hormones released by the body in the presence of fixed triggers that have somehow become inaccessible to the post-vacation period couple.

The morning I moved to my new apartment in the new city, New York City, the girl who puts spells on things and I ate breakfast as we did most mornings, three years, watching her digital alarm clock on her bookshelf next to her couch so we would know when I had to leave so I could catch my flight, and when we were hugging in the middle of the living room after breakfast I looked at the clock and told her it was time for me to leave and she looked at once shocked and saddened, and she looked at me worried and said, “Oh, is it really happening now?” Exactly two months later, in New York, I noticed that I was uncontrollably experiencing nuanced visual images of seemingly insignificant places in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, where I lived with the girl. Specific parts of a sidewalk on the left side of John between 11th and 12th. The way the road slopes diagonally on the northwest corner of Olive and Denny. A beautiful tree next to the tennis courts in the lower part of Volunteer Park. The weird open space on the corner of 11th and Republican. The view in front of The Crescent walking up the right side of Olive toward Denny. The facade of the corner store at Olive and Summit. The foliage on the second roundabout on Summit from Olive. The way the ivy at the Capitol Hill library looks after it’s died off for the winter. The way I’d experience these images was as if I’d just walked face-first into a brick wall; my mind would blank, I’d grimace, it would hurt. If I got these images when I was having a conversation with someone, or if I was having a meeting with my boss, or if I was sitting on the subway avoiding eye contact with the person across the car from me, I’d blink and do a sort of mental teeth clenching, forgetting it as hard as I could, forgetting it, I didn’t want to think about any of it.

“The point” of a relationship is arguably a false construct imposed on a chaotic romantic union between two individuals, by one or both (usually both) of the individuals, in an effort to maintain a feeling of control and place the relationship within a pre-existing narrative that’s proven its long-term ability to comfort and provide security. Some couples who believe that a relationship has a point, a sort-of concrete end-goal, and are able to articulate it, have described it to their relationship therapists as a sustainable, mutual feeling of adoration and love for each other, a healthy sex life, an ability to support each other until death. The general premise is that it’s the couple against the world, that at the end of a day full of adversity they can come home and find their other half in 100% solidarity, that they take care of each others’ needs, that each is completely certain the other is the person they want to love until they die. The general premise — the “point” — is sustainable happiness in the relationship. Fulfillment, a life-long falling into each other, security, a constant merging, stability, home isn’t a place but where you are, comfort, accepting the universe, safety, holding hands, sex, an island for your kitchen, beauty, finally getting a cat together, forever, etc.

One night after the bar during the first week I moved to New York, I was in my new apartment, and I felt great. I felt like I could handle everything I’d recently changed about my situation. I felt happy about my new coworkers. The feelings were unexpected. I had this irrevocable sense of clarity regarding social interaction, and it was like I had completely forgotten that I’d just broken up with someone with whom I lived in a small studio apartment in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for three years, with whom I worked on a farm for two years, with whom I went to Europe for three months, who cried when she saw flamenco in an impossibly small, crowded jazz club in Barcelona, who I freaked out over and cried about and lied to and whose parents hated me and who loved Nick Drake and Chopin and Beirut and WHY? with me and shaved me in the shower and worked the farmers market with me and about whom my best friend looked at me serious and said “Don’t be a dumbass” when I was talking with him at the Redwood about maybe breaking up with her and who had this funny system of dishtowels that I could never get the hang of. Somehow I wasn’t processing the loss of any of this stuff, somehow I was just excited and free — I was thinking things like “Wow I’m handling this well, this is super easy,” and “I did a good job preparing myself.” I had just gotten back from the bar, and I took off my clothes, in my new apartment, in New York City, and I began reading a TC submission and came across two successive lines that are, coincidentally, exactly the same two successive lines in a song by WHY? I used to sometimes listen to, and that was the first time I cried since we broke up. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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  • Kvane223

    damn long.
    kinda nice.

  • guest

    <3 this. hate this. This person is the same as me. Is that really how I sound?

    I'm preparing myself..

  • reader

    This is just wonderful, and so sad. All at the same time

  • Devi

    REAL – as real as narrative in my head during and after my break-up. Great job!

  • SBG

    “Completely new contexts in the presence of consistent validation from new and interesting people seem to free my personality from parts of itself that I detest.” heavy. love it.

  • Anonymous

    I love this so much…the language, the structure, the sadness. Beautiful.

  • Ryan O'Connelll

    i mean honey way to just be an amazing writer.

  • http://stephentullydierks.tumblr.com/ stephen tully dierks

    i like it. nice job, brandon. 

    i was intrigued and excited by the fifth sentence–how it is placed so that initially it seems unrelated to those around it, and you continue on without explaining at first. i also love the repetition of the long series of details about the ex-girlfriend–made me think of the montage at the end of “annie hall.” really fine piece, brandon.

  • http://newhandsweepstakes.com/contributors/brian-mcelmurry/ Brian M

    Damn, this was really great and deep. Loved the long sentences (and repetition). I’ve read ‘most’ of the things you’ve written regarding your relationship on TC, and this was really cool to finalize, maybe, it all. Though it seems there are still deep feelings for her. The dish towel bit. The dumbass bit. Profound.

  • http://www.nicholeexplainsitall.com EarthToNichole

    This is the first TC piece that ever made me cry.

  • Anonymous

    woooooooooooooooooo

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.hindman1 Jessica Ann

    I started reading this and had to stop….still licking my wounds and the hurt is a bit too fresh to read this in its entirety just yet. I have no doubt it’s nothing short of amazing though…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9383035 Scott Muska

    STRONGform.

  • http://beanofan.tumblr.com/ kitefeet

    cute and sad. i liked it 

  • http://twitter.com/MoMonetMoProbs Monet Patterson

    This was almost too painful to read because I feel myself already hurtling past the post-vacation period into…I don’t know what. Or maybe I do, but I don’t really want to have to know it.

  • Claudette

    Your writing reminds me of  Italo Calvino’s  style, specially If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Reading it is a bit frustrating, I admit. Long and winding, full of what seems to be at first, totally unrelated details … but it eventually makes beautiful sense. Like the finale to a fireworks display. I hope to read more of the beauty that you write. 

  • Buttbut

    i wondered why this was so fuckin long then i realized you were copy + pasting the same shit over and over LOL :D

  • http://twitter.com/courtenanay Courtney Goldy

    I hate Brandon Scott Gorrell a lot less now. I kind of actually really like him because of this. Really, really, amazing.

  • guest

    i feel like you just tiptoed around me like the pink panther then stabbed me in the heart.  this was incredible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gabrielle-Greener/542210531 Gabrielle Greener

    I casually follow your work and while reading this felt as though a real maturation of style occurs in this piece. Very pleasantly surprised.

  • FanForLife

    Blown away!!!  You are wise beyond years!

  • FanForLife

    You are wise beyond YOUR years!

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