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A Tamil Male's Perspective on Couples Therapy
"We met when she was 34 and I was 35. This is the best, most healthy, and honest relationship I've ever had. It started off intense. We were both very attracted to each other, but like most of us that age, we were jaded from our previous relationships. She commented on something I wrote in my dating profile, "Bruised not broken". Our first conversation was about our years in therapy."
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I am proud of us. We met when she was 34 and I was 35. This is the best, most healthy, and honest relationship I've ever had. It started off intense. We were both very attracted to each other, but like most of us that age, we were jaded from our previous relationships. She commented on something I wrote in my dating profile, "Bruised not broken". Our first conversation was about our years in therapy.

Did we trauma-bond? Maybe, I don't know. There were many intense nights. We started with deep, emotional discourse, sprinkled in with, "Oh yeah! You play soccer?...nice." We talked about our own years in therapy, and discovered that we suffer from similar problems. At that time, I went through an awakening. I had lost a ton of weight, felt comfortable in my body, and started to become more confident. I liked who I was. She, on the other hand was still recovering from recent events, and was trying to sort things out. We were both at different stages of therapy. Because of that, I was ready to jump in and roll the dice, but she wasn’t sold.

This isn’t about our love story, so let's fast track. I convinced her, we finally met, liked each other, yadda-yadda-yadda, a year has passed. We’ve moved in, and immediately started noticing things. Reoccurring arguments and fights that got triggered the same way. Neither of us would budge. There were temporary cease-fires, but nothing got resolved. During these cease-fires, there were two things we kept coming back to. We liked each other, and we saw a future together. I don't remember who said it first, but we started looking at couples' counseling. We had to decide which therapist we'd want to use. Hers or mine, or a third. After consulting both therapists, we went with mine. At that time, I had five years of therapy, and she just finished her second year.

We started our sessions like any meeting between strangers. Granted, I've been with this therapist for five years, but now we’re attending as a single, unknown unit. As a couple, we needed to figure out how to make this work. We had to see if our bond was real, or merely a trauma-vacation, where we went on trauma-dates and had trauma-sex. "They are wrong!" - Whether we said it out loud, or simply thought it, this was the roadblock of every argument. No matter what the other says, this is the mindset we start off with. Our walls are built, and getting higher with every sentence. Our trauma was triggered somehow, and we went on the defense. Both of us lived with so much hurt that we’ve learned to hide ourselves with a mask, and putting up walls in order to deflect. The mask and wall have become our chosen personality. How do we take it off, and be vulnerable to the person we’re choosing, possibly ‘til death?

Step One – Seeing the person. We discussed a recent argument. We both said our piece, and we looked at the therapist. He looks at me and asks, "How do you feel, when she says that?" I explained how I felt. Same question to my partner. She explained how she felt. We realized that neither one of us actually understood why the other person was hurt. We merely saw their pain, through the lens of our own trauma. The earlier trauma gets in our life, the earlier the rest of the world dies around us, leaving only ourselves behind. This is when the walls get built, and the mask comes on. Our focus becomes self-preservation, rather than empathy. How do we feel empathy, if we can’t see the other person?

Step Two – Feeling their pain. We see the person. Now what? Here’s where we truly felt each other’s pain. This is when her mask came off. Our therapist told me to look at her while she tells me her story. This was new for me. I always look away. Anytime anything is too painful, I look away. I make a joke, I talk over them, whatever I need to do for self-preservation. Not this time though. This time I'm inside her story. Just like any book or movie on tragedy, I'm following her scene-by-scene, page-by-page. Then I pause, step back, and realize that this is my love, trying to find her way out. Now I open up, and speak from the heart. Without a mask, and without our emotional walls, we were incredibly vulnerable. Many tears were shed during these sessions.

Step Three and onwards – Choice. You know their story. You shared yours. This is the best part, and where most of us want to be. The two reasons why we’re here. We love each other, and we see a future together. This is where you choose to be with your partner. You’re now part of each other’s life, and creating a future together. Weaved throughout this story are flashbacks of troubling times, some triggers that were dormant, and real-world problems such as finances, jobs, and other hurdles. The difference now is that there’s no pretense. You’ve seen each other's faces, and continue to choose each other. Since you’ve made that choice, you fully accept the responsibilities of that choice. Nothing is a zero-sum game. Every argument, every decision, every bit of criticism is done in good faith. You’re trying to solve problems, not win fights. Now that there's a person that understands how you feel, you look to each other for guidance, love, or merely a pillow at night to put your head on.

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We were in the bathroom when we found out we were pregnant. She took her birth control out a few weeks prior. Before deciding to take the birth-control out, we've had many sessions with our therapist and conversations on our own. Practical conversation about finances, schooling, and location, to more intense conversations about how we were raised, and the things we did and did not want to bring into this child's life. Never in our wildest dreams did we think it was going to happen so fast. We just came back from Bouldering, a sport we recently picked up. She tells me she doesn’t remember getting her period. I joked that she always says the same thing right before her period, “My boobs are getting sensitive!”. We planned on getting a pregnancy test that day. We got two, just in case. We were in the bathroom, chatting away while waiting for the test results. “It says we’re pregnant”, she says to me with a confused smile. She is 37 and I’m 38. Everything we read, said the same thing. After 30, your chances of getting pregnant go down. We had already come to terms that we might never have a child. I was over the moon when I saw the results. We stared at each other in disbelief. When I looked at her, I didn’t just see my wife. I saw her whole story. I saw her aches and pains and grief, and also the joy, the sparkle in her eyes, and her heart. A heart that is now shared with mine, in this baby.

In my mind, couples therapy follows this path. "I will not budge, because they are wrong.", to, "I will not budge, because I’ll die if I do.", to finally, “We will work through this together, because I choose you, and I’m proud of us.”

 

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Anton Sountharanayagam
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Hi everyone. Sometimes I write stories. Sometimes I don't recycle.
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