The first thing I noticed, other than the chaotically cluttered office, was the therapist’s handlebar mustache. It took up half his face and hid most of his mouth. The second thing I noticed was his oversized wooden desk and the tiny loveseat across from it. There was no other seating.
James and I exchanged hellos with the therapist. He introduced himself as Miles and encouraged us to crowd onto the tiny sofa. James’s leg touched mine, and I shoved myself farther into the corner.
Since James’s accident two years earlier, our marriage had unraveled, leaving only one fraying thread. James had begged me to see a marriage therapist with him, and I begrudgingly agreed.
Honestly, I didn’t see the point. After James suffered a traumatic brain injury and PTSD from his accident, he had forgotten much of our life together and had an affair with a work contractor. Even though he was remorseful and wanted to fix our marriage, I found myself sinking deep into bipolar depression and self-harming.
Basically, we were a mess.
Miles studied our intake sheets and the surveys we had individually filled out. After a minute or two, he looked up. “Mia, why are you here?”
I shrugged. “He’s making me.”
Miles asked James to recount the events of the previous two years, and I began laughing because our life sounded like a bad, unbelievable made-for-TV drama. Miles’s glare cut me off and he motioned for James to continue. I sat with my hands shoved under my thighs and stared at the wall clock, begging it to fast forward.
When it was my turn to talk, Miles said bluntly, “What do you want?”
Years of hurt exploded in me. “I want him to never have done any of it,” I yelled. “I want my old life back. I want to be able to forget everything as he gets to.”
Sobs shook my body, and James laid a hand on my back. I shrugged away; I hated his touch.
Miles tapped a pen on the desk as I wiped my nose and tears with a tissue. He frowned at us. The wall clock appeared stuck at 10:53 — we still had twenty minutes left and I wanted to run out of the room.
“I’ve never said this before,” Miles said slowly. “But given the history between the two of you and Mia’s disinterest in fighting for your marriage, I don’t think I can help you.”
I sat there stunned. Part of me had hoped Miles would have a magic potion to right our ship. The other part of me wanted confirmation that James and I were too broken to stay married.
But at that moment, I realized I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to prove Miles wrong, and maybe that isn’t a great reason to stay in a dying marriage, but it was mine. How dare he tell me that James and I couldn’t come back from the mess we were in?
As we walked to the car, James vowed to find a new therapist, someone who wouldn’t fire us after one session. I fastened my seat belt and stared out the window. I knew we were broken, but to hear a professional declare my marriage dead, shattered my already broken heart.
In hindsight, Miles firing us was a blessing. It forced James and me to take a hard look at what we were doing, and we both became determined to prove Miles wrong. No, our marriage wasn’t instantly repaired, but that day started us down the long, circuitous path of saving our marriage.
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There would be more road bumps: our separation, my starting a new relationship with someone else, and James’s stint in rehab, but that day in Miles’s office, we both realized that our marriage was important — not just to us as a couple but to us as individuals and as parents.
Nine years have passed since that day, and James and I are more happily married than I thought possible. I’ve stopped trying to recover my past marriage and now focus on building our new life together. We both work hard to value and appreciate each other, and we take nothing for granted.
As wonderful as my marriage was before James’s accident, it wasn’t as authentic and deep as the one we have now.
Mia Hayes writes about her marriage and life. She is the author of the Waterford Novels and the forthcoming The Has-Beens.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.