Below, I discus some of life’s questions that regularly make an appearance in the therapy room. In my office, finding the answers to these questions can involve steady, patient exploration and thoughtfulness. But this is a blog post, so instead of a gentle meandering, you’re going to get the quick and dirty shortcuts to some of the quandaries come up most frequently in therapeutic work.
What’s Wrong with Me?
Here’s a question we hear a lot. And the answer is: undoubtedly something. I mean, there’s something wrong with all of us. But, take comfort, it’s probably not the thing you’re worried about. That may sound flippant, but the thing we’re worried about is a) something we have an awareness of, and b) something we are (hopefully) actively trying to solve. So, basically, if you’re going to worry about yourself, worry about the things you’re not worried about. And since that’s clearly fruitless, just focus on doing the best you can with what you have. It’s all anyone can ask of themselves or anyone else.
Is This Normal?
The answer to this question is almost always yes. Something I find terribly beautiful about therapy is seeing the same concerns and issues stretch across many different people—different ethnicities, genders, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds—the same problems appear again and again, but each time in a different face. It’s this factor that gives therapists experience in the work, but also keeps it fresh, because even though the problem isn’t new, the person is. While our particular makeup will put a certain slant onto a problem, it is rare to come across an issue in therapy that I’ve just flat out never seen or heard of before. Despite how we may appear on the surface, our worries, our challenges are often the same.
Should We Get Married? or Should We Stay Married?
Hmm….No? I mean, should anyone get married? It’s always interesting when couples ask these questions. Other than extreme examples, such as abuse or abandonment, no one can say with clear authority whether someone should get or stay married. There’s no universal set of factors that say whether or a not a marriage is a good one or a bad one. It’s mostly a question as to whether it’s worth it to you to stay and work on your challenges, or move on.
What I will say is this, the three factors that I look for to determine whether a relationship is thriving are: Do you enjoy each other’s company and make time for each other? Are you able to express both emotional and sexual intimacy? Are you able to solve problems together? To me, these get at the core of what most of us are looking for in a long-term relationship. If you can do those core tasks, then your marriage probably has a pretty good shot.
Don’t You Think I Need Closure?
I firmly believe that the concept of closure is more myth than substance. Frankly, I’m suspicious when anyone says they’re planning to do something for the express purpose of achieving closure. It often seems to be a way to justify a behavior that we want to do but has no real benefit, like calling up an ex or…okay, let’s face it. Usually people are asking this in regards to wanting to make contact with an ex. There are other reasons closure comes up, but overwhelmingly it’s the ex thing. Unless you actually want to try to get back with your ex, or they still have your favorite sweater or something—don’t call them. Actually, forget the sweater. Just don’t call them. Go out, have fun, cry with friends—repeat as needed. Whatever closure that comes is mostly achieved through time and reflection, not through re-hashing the same issues over and over with your former partner.
Did We Screw Up Our Kid?
Sure. I mean, much like my answer to the question at the beginning of this post, there’s undoubtedly something you’ve done that was no so great for your child. But—and take a deep breath—that’s okay. Kids don’t need perfect parents. What they need more than anything is a parent who meets them where they are, and tries to help them develop the best version of themselves. I worry far less about the parent who asks or wonders if they’ve screwed up their kid, than the one who thinks they’re doing everything right, or the one who thinks they have no ability to impact their child. Your kid is an imperfect little person in an imperfect big world, who will only encounter imperfect people along the way—perfect parents need not apply.
People ask me how I can sit with people’s problems day in and day out. The truth is, if that was all therapy was, I couldn’t do it. What makes the work possible for me is being a part of a process that either solves the problem, or at the very least helps improve the person’s relationship to the problem. The fact that we get to ask and actually attempt to answer questions like those above makes it all worth it.