For Maria, navigating the dating world had been an unideal adventure...
...filled with awkward moments in person and even more awkward conversations online. Never in her life did she imagine having strangers ask her the most invasive and sometimes vulgar questions that she would have blushed asking her husband of twenty years, let alone a faceless avatar. Maria had many lonely nights and vulnerable times, so she relied heavily on her support system. She had long lost hope in the club scene, but the advent of dating sites meant that meeting people could be relatively easy. Forewarned about the current dating scene, Maria had decided to take an inventory of her wants and needs in a partner as well as her own readiness for a relationship. Through the rounds of dates, she better learned her preferences and, crucially, she remained true to her partner inventory. She met a nice man online, and they acquainted themselves over a series of conversations. When they were both comfortable, Maria met Matthew at a busy restaurant, and they shared the first of many dinners. Maria and Matthew were engaged after a year of dating, and they were wed six months later.
Now, four years post-nuptials, the couple is trying to balance caring for a developing two-year-old and managing similarly developing careers. Maria is an accountant with aspirations of transitioning into a managerial role that would entail more income, yes, but also additional responsibility and time at the office. Maria hated the thought of giving up even more time with her daughter, Lucia, but she also knew that the family needed the increased income. Complicating the move to management, Matthew had dropped strong hints at wanting another child. Maria too wanted more children, but how could she balance multiple children and a demanding occupation?
The work-life balance is a tenuous one
Anyone with any job can experience a melding of work into family or vice versa. Given an imbalance, issues on the job can affect the entire family unit. Likewise, interpersonal problems can greatly impact work performance, leading to more issues at home. This downward spiral can be difficult to recognize and even more difficult to exit, as a state of enmeshment offers boundaries between work and life that are undefinable. This is Maria’s fear: never progressing in her career for the sake of her family or damaging her familial relationship in the interest of her career. Matthew had a similar lot, but he did not have to work through and after multiple pregnancies. Now, our couple could take time discussing the family’s future, how many people of which the family will consist, and what boundaries they need to establish to keep the family concerns out of work and maintain agreed upon limits for work in the home. Regardless of occupational ambition or the size of your family unit, even if it is you and your dog, establishing a healthy work-life balance and self-care routines is pivotal to your long-term health and well-being.
Leaving work aside, parenting and being in a partnership can be immensely challenging. Maria found it difficult to leave Lucia at daycare every morning even months into the routine. As relatively new parents, Maria and Matthew were still not entirely on the same wavelength concerning parental styles. Maria tended to be more protective and cautious with Lucia, while Matthew wanted his daughter to be bold and independent. This discrepancy often led to disagreements, miscommunication, and heated arguments. On these occasions, Maria felt unheard, and Matthew was left confused and isolated. Given time and repetition, this cycle can become harmful to the couple’s relationship, and, importantly, the discord can affect even a young child. The answer is not to retreat to separate corners and sweep the problems under the metaphorical rug. Doing that will eventually create a lump in the rug, ripe for tripping the entire family.
In our brief vignette, Maria appears competent and introspective, but there was one piece missing from her story. Therapy. There exists a strong stigma in discussing mental health as, over the millennia, individuals with mental health concerns have been shunned, castigated, and marginalized. Whether out of fear, ignorance regarding the commonness of the need and use of therapy, or out of unadulterated hate and bias, many in our society discount the legitimacy of therapeutic relationships.
The benefits of therapy
However, let us look back at Maria. When she was wading through the dating stream, it may have been helpful for her to have someone listening, without judgment, to add insight and perspective to Maria’s own. Beyond dating adventures, finding a qualified therapist who could help Maria explore her own desires as well as assisting with the loneliness and isolation may have assisted Maria through her difficult times. Looking at Maria after marriage, there are several areas in which a therapist could prove beneficial. A therapist could also assist Maria in thinking through her vocational goals, while maintaining space for a vibrant family life. Maria could have sought therapy to address the necessary boundaries in maintaining a healthy work-life ratio. Further, our couple might have needed an objective third party to address the conflicting parenting styles, the frequent miscommunication, and the associated consequences. Remember, as frustrating and defeating as finding a new clinician can be, your fit with your therapist is key. Finally, although May is Mental Health Awareness Month, these concerns obviously persist year-round and addressing life changes can take time. Also, stigma is still alive and well, a pervasive and genuine factor preventing some from seeking counseling. However, the fact remains that millions of people go to therapy on a weekly basis for concerns ranging from dating woes to trauma or grief. This is not to say that a therapist can swoop in and magically cure you or your relationships. Beware of anyone that offers a miracle solution. Instead, if you find yourself in need of support and perspective, seek therapy. With time and effort, therapy offers an opportunity to grow, learn, and heal from wounds incurred through life.
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– Richard DeBord
M.S. Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC)
Mental Health Specialist | Email Richard