A journey starts with a single step

The other day We had Our first session at Relate, the relationship counselling charity. Technically this was Our consultation session as opposed to a counselling session, to assess why Our sex life and relationship are messed up and how We might be fixed.

I think neither of Us really knew what to expect as We walked in to the suburban Victorian terrace and I’m not sure how convinced We were walking out. But it was only an assessment so it would be unjustified to expect too much.

Once We had been let in to the offices, We were left to find Our way upstairs to Our interrogator, let’s call her Betty, a stereotypically middle aged woman. There was no real greeting as such, but a moderately perfunctory introduction: who she was, what the confidentiality and safety policies are and here are some forms for you to sign. I almost expected to be told about the emergency slides, the floatation vests and oxygen masks.

We were asked about the problems We are having, where We started from, how We thought we’ve ended up where We are, where We wanted to get to and what we thought counselling could do for us. Although Betty was at pains to point out she would probably not be Our counsellor, she quite obviously counts that service amongst her roles as she did occasionally find herself providing counselling, and then stopping herself. A proactive approach – I like that. Sort of. But I, and to varying degrees We, came away with some reservations about both Betty and the process.

The process was, as I feared, a little touchey-feeley, a little tree-hugging, a little simpering, and at times I even felt Betty was more than happy to put words in Our mouths. Ask questions, yes – solicit responses, yes – but leading the witness? I object your Honour. Additionally Betty seemed not to like silence, and when I found myself trying to formulate an answer to one of her questions, she would generally interject. On a couple of occasions I felt like telling her to shut the hell up and listen.

I am definitely of the opinion that Our relationship has many problems, on top of sex, and for the first 45min of Our 1hr session, my Wife and I both studiously avoided the issue. When We had had Our initial conversations at home about marriage guidance, She had hinted that She viewed sex therapy as Our expected route (rather than relationship counselling); maybe it was coyness that meant She didn’t want to bring up the topic now, but when I spotted Betty clock-watching, I figured someone needed to mention the large grey pachyderm sat between us. Betty took the ball, but I wouldn’t say she ran with it, more that she considered it briefly, bounced it off the wall a couple of times and tossed it casually into the basket with all Our other troubles. She fleetingly mentioned We could take some psyco-sexual therapy at any time if We needed, and commented that good sex is part of a good relationship, and as We don’t currently have one of those, it was not surprising that Our sex life leaves something to be desired. I think she missed the point – yes We do have relationship problems, and yes that obviously has an impact on Our sex life, but We have fundamental problems with sex itself that need to be dealt with. The Relate website says that, amongst other things, the initial consultation session should assess whether clients need relationship counselling or sex therapy, so the fact Betty didn’t even attempt to assertain what sexual problems We are having is disapointing to say the least.

As for Betty herself, I have to tread carefully here, lest you draw false conclusions about me – my reasons for the following are entirely rational so I urge you not to jump to conclusions.
Betty’s first language is not English, though she has mastered it to a far greater degree than any other language I could ever even attempt to order a beer in. But her English is not perfect. We missheard or misunderstood her, she misheard or misunderstood Us, and linguistic subtleties that a native speaker would have seized upon were, I suspect, missed. Additionally, my Wife (who works in an organisation which counts multiculturalism as its raison d’être) commented that Betty’s cultural background could theoretically have an impact on how she regards relationship problems and their solutions. (In Our defence should also add that my Wife and I do not have a common ethnicity, so this cannot legitimately be regarded as prejudice on Our part.) I am not suggesting for a minute that I only want to be counselled by “one of my kind”, but having to think about the language I was using did not make the process of articulating Our problems any easier.

As Our hour was concluded, Betty asserted that she had hope for us, though as far as I could tell she based this asssesment primarily on the fact that We had decided to try counselling. Not strong evidence, if you ask me, especially as the Relate website states they cannot garuantee to fix a broken relationship. She also asked “What do you think We can do for you?” and I had to bite my tounge – if I knew what they could do for Us I’d probably be a counsellor and oculd repair my own marriage. But I’m not closing the book on this yet.

Unfortunately the counsellors’ time-tabling seems to focus on their working hours in preference to clients time constraintss. With my Wife having a 90min commute to work, and Us being unwilling to ask friends or relatives to babysit for Us (We don’t really want to wash Our laundry in public) I fear finding a time slot that will work for Us and Relate will be a challenge. Since We both came away from the session with some reservations, but still see potential in the exercise, if We can’t easily make it work, We may right off the £50 We have already speant and consider independant counsellors. (I have always found self employed people far more prepared to be accomodating!) In the meantime, We will see what Relate can do for us. If nothing else’s it all makes Us talk, and by doing so on someone else’s schedule it means We can’t procrastinate and leave things festering.

When We will see anyone again remians to be seen. But I don’t want to let it just slide, as We have done with so many of Our problems. So stay tuned …

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