Family Matters

The thoughts of a husband, father, brother and son

Archive for the category “Psychotherapy”

Good Times For A Change…

Some bits of really good news this week.

First, my nephew, H. This is a young man with a very tough home life. His mum has advanced MS. His little brother has quite pronounced physical challenges, and although he’s an exceptionally cute little lad, is very demanding of his parents’ time. H gets lots and lots of love from his family, but they don’t have much money and live in a council house in an inner city.

H is just coming up to the end of primary school, and the thought of him trying to survive in one of the inner city comprehensive schools for which he was bound was not a happy one. But this week we heard that he has won a full, seven year scholarship to the very prestigious private school which was the port in a storm for my eldest son when he was driven out of our local school by homophobic bullying. H did this all by himself – no coaching, no tutoring – and if there is a prouder, happier uncle anywhere in the world right now, I would very much like to meet him. If ever a family deserved a bit of good fortune, H’s family is that family.

It’s disappointing that the state system couldn’t offer H or my son any more support, but that seems to be the way of the world.

Next, my dad. He’s been discharged from the care of his psychiatrist. Whilst he’s still something of a shadow of the man he was before depression put him in hospital two years ago, he’s much recovered, and we do seem to have avoided a double-dip depression (I wish I could claim credit for that phrase but have to tip my hat to my mum).

Finally, my wife, the Beautiful Armenian. After weeks and weeks of frustration and set-back she has finally been given the go-ahead to start writing up the transcript of a counselling session that is one of the requirements of the final year of her course. That’s a bit of a two-sided coin. The frustration of waiting is over. Now comes the joy of living with her in writing mode.

Back on the subject of depression, but to end on a lighter note, I was watching England play rugby on Saturday and moaning mildly about the dark nature of Brian Moore’s (ex-England player) TV commentary. But, I explained to the Beautiful A as she passed through the room, he was abused in childhood, has suffered from depression and has had the courage to write a book about it all.

Her response was priceless. She did check herself towards the end of her question, but she definitely said it and I definitely heard it:

“Oh,” she said, looking at the television. “Is he the one who committed suicide?”

She isn’t blonde, but I do wonder occasionally if I ought to get her a wig.

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There’s a Narcissist Round Every Corner

Narcissus as depicted in the mosaics at Paphos

One thing I’ve learned a lot about as the junior partner in my wife’s studies is narcissism.  It’s not a nice thing, but it’s good to understand it.  If you ever come across a narcissist (and it’s likely you will), you’re going to need all the help you can get.

How do you know if you’re dealing with a narcissist?  Here are some of the signs:

  • He or she will have a strong sense of entitlement – a feeling that the world owes them.   They will expect special treatment.  And, boy, will they know their rights.
  • They will exaggerate their own achievements, and take the credit for everything they can.
  • They will have at least one, and probably a little crowd of followers.
  • There will be no conversation or topic that they can’t rapidly bring back to themselves.
  • They will say I more than you (think about it)
  • At first they may be charming and compelling, cosying up to you and inviting you to be part of their world.
  • But if ever they are criticised, their reaction may be out of all proportion to the situation.
  • They will go to great lengths to deflect responsibility if they do anything wrong – it will be somebody else’s fault, or something outside their control.
  • They’ll tell you lies, tell you sweet little lies – if you listen closely, the stories of their accomplishments will have holes and inconsistencies (although they will deny this).
  • They may have a long green body and a bobbing yellow head.

That last one’s not true.  That’s a narcissus flower (or daffodil).  Not the same as a narcissist.

But the term narcissist does come from the story of Narcissus in Greek mythology.  The beautiful youth who became so obsessed with gazing upon his own reflection in a pool that he died of starvation.

Now don’t worry if you’ve read the list above and thought, hang on, I do that. And maybe that sometimes as well.  We all have a little of the narcissist within us – who doesn’t like to be adored occasionally?  You need to tick most of the things on the list, and a few more besides, to be a card-carrying member of the narcissist party.  And if you’ve recognised that you may have faults, you’re probably not a narcissist.  Narcissists aren’t good at acknowledging their faults.

Narcissists do need followers, like those little fish that swim after sharks.  And they need followers because they need approval, admiration, adoration.  Adoration is like a drug to them, a fiercely addictive drug which turns them into monsters if ever you stop being their dealer.  If you criticise them, expect trouble.  Expect narcissistic rage.

My encounters with narcissists have largely been at work.  I’m pretty sure I’ve worked for a narcissist.  I suspect I’m working with one now.  And I’ve definitely had a narcissist working for me.  Am I some kind of narcissist magnet?

The one who caused me the most trouble by far was the narcissist who worked for me.  She caused me trouble out of all proportion to her value to the team.  It turns out that I fell into many of the classic traps:

  • Initially I was charmed by her.  I assumed she would be like most of the other people who have worked for me – dedicated, uncomplaining, driven – and so allowed her special treatment early on.
  • When I realised my mistakes and started drawing boundaries, this caused the horrible situation in which I became afraid of allowing all the other wonderful members of my team to do things (carry some holiday forward outside policy, go home early when they’ve worked endless late nights and weekends, work from home when their children are ill) because I just knew the narcissist would be watching, and storing it up, and waiting for her “me too – I’m ENTITLED!” moment.
  • I think I came close to losing one of my really valued team members when she had to get involved in managing the narcissist.  This seems to be a well-known occurrence – like a cuckoo, the narcissist drives out others with their manipulative and destructive behaviour.
  • I began questioning my own judgment, thinking that the problem maybe lay with me.

In the end, we all struck lucky and she left of her own accord, apparently to fulfill some lifetime ambition (another trait of the narcissist – living in a fantasy world).

Encountering a narcissist at work can be bad enough – awful if they are in a position to bully you.  But encountering one in a family or romantic relationship is another thing entirely.

Because one of the things which really defines a narcissist is an inability to show empathy.  They see the world through their own eyes only, cannot conceive that someone else may have different views or feelings.  Sadly for them, this means that they may find it difficult to love.  Part of love is wanting to possess, but much of it is wanting to give.  Can you truly love someone if you can’t understand that they may have feelings?

As I said earlier, I am pretty sure that I am working with a narcissist now, and he is certainly someone who would love to see me fail. I know that it will be difficult and frustrating to work with him, but this time I don’t feel too worried, because this time I think I know what I’m dealing with. This understanding feels like a shield, and it’s also helped me make sense of some experiences from the past.

Much of the understanding has come from my wife, who has had narcissism loom large in her life at times, and who has had to learn a lot about it on her course.  It is a recognized personality disorder, but there does seem to be quite a spectrum of sufferers – it’s more pronounced in some than in others. If you want to know more about it, just Google “narcissism” or “narcissism in the workplace.”

But with this increased awareness does come one slight problem: we do sometimes start thinking we see a narcissist round every corner. Thankfully that isn’t actually the case, and we do both believe that most people in the world are good people.

Even if the narcissists would sometimes make us believe otherwise.

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Top Tips For Dealing With Marital Tension

Dear Dr Toby,

You seem to have a few things to say for yourself about family matters.  Do you have any tips for a completely (ahem) imaginary situation in which you find a little bit of tension appearing in your relationship with your wife?  Perhaps you’ve felt over a recent holiday season that she’s been a little bit shorter with you than normal, a little less patient.  Any advice very welcome.

Yours etc

You have so come to the right place.  Some words to the wise…

One:  Be Open About Your Feelings. 

Let’s deal with this one straight away.  You’d probably expect me to say this.  But no.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s much better to skulk round the subject for a few days.  In this way, your good lady can pick up on the fact that something’s not quite right, misinterpret it, and then become more negative in her own behaviour.  Happy days.

Two:  Keep Yourselves Busy. 

You really don’t want to be spending time together on your own when there’s any tension between you.  You’re far better off putting all your efforts into keeping other people happy – your parents, your children, your whole wider family in fact.  You’ll find this helps a lot, particularly if your minor marital misunderstandings coincide with a nice relaxing time of the year like Christmas.

Three: Make Some Me Time.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending all your time thinking about others.  Don’t.  You need space.  Space to connect with your inner child.  Space to indulge in a little honest-to-god, cathartic self-pity.  Because you’re worth it.

Four:  Pick Your Moment.

Timing is everything.  You may need to be patient.  Wait for that special moment to bring things to a head.  2.00 a.m on New Years Day when you’ve spent the last seven hours feeding, watering and entertaining six other families, for instance.  Even better if you add that little dash of something else – several glasses of red wine too many, perhaps.

Five:  Get Her In The Right Mood By Being Nice About Her Friends.

A woman always appreciates it when you reaffirm her friendship choices.  Be as positive as you can.  Something like, “I thought Julia looked really good tonight.  Don’t think I’ve ever seen her looking hotter, to be honest.  And Emma – wow!”  A tip for the advanced student here – it’s even better if she doesn’t really like Emma.  It takes a special kind of husband to show that kind of consideration.

Six:  Choose Your Words With Care.

When the time comes, don’t open up with something pathetic like: “I’ve been a bit worried that you may be finding me boring or irritating, and I think we should talk about it.”  Take a bolder line.  Suggest that she’s not been paying you enough attention.  It’s bound to get things off to a good start.

Our fears are never very far away.

And my biggest fear with being alongside my wife as she goes through the profound experience of becoming a psychotherapist is that she may one day outgrow me, outgrow us.  Over Christmas this bubbled to the surface.

Nothing major.  Just a nagging feeling that she was finding me tiresome.  And that this was a cause for concern.

It’s quite a demanding time of year for us – lots of other people to keep happy – and not one she particularly enjoys.  And maybe she does move a little too quickly to putting on an air of martyrdom.

But she is a wonderful, wonderful wife.  And we have a wonderful, wonderful marriage.  And although I made every one of the mistakes described above, it wasn’t a big deal.  We talked.  And when I finally said what I felt, she said:  “Oh, so that’s it.  Your behaving like that made me feel exactly the same.”

Not A Therapy Generation

Two years ago, my father became victim to a bout of depression, the third of his life. This time it was even more serious than in the past. In the early stages it was so severe that he spent several weeks in hospital. He has gradually been recovering, but the progress has been slow, so very, very slow.

I asked my mum recently if the cognitive behavioural therapy that dad was having earlier this year had finished for good, or whether he might go back for some more. She said that it had finished, and repeated the view which she has expressed before: neither of them felt that it had been much help. I challenged this very mildly. My perception is that he has been at his best over the last year when he was in therapy, and that progress may have stalled once he stopped.

Mum simply responded by saying that they are not really part of a therapy generation.

There’s no doubt they have little faith in therapy. Their participation in the process was reluctant to say the least, showing about as much enthusiasm as the Small Boy Wonder is currently showing for his imminent Spanish GCSE exam. There seemed to be real (but unspoken) fear about what therapy might involve and where it might lead, with my mother showing utter incredulity when my dad was asked to write about his feelings (whatever next, for goodness sake), as part of his “homework.”  I feel dad only took part at all because somebody in authority told him he had to.

I find this attitude at least a little curious. It seems so completely contrary to what was plain to me – this unspeakable process was actually doing some good. There are also other examples of the benefits of therapy from elsewhere in the family. My brother has regular therapy, and speaks positively about it. It’s plain to me, and I assume to others, that my wife has got many good things out of the therapy she has been through as part of her training. My daughter saw a psychiatrist when she was gripped by an eating disorder, and although she was unenthusiastic about him and his methods (a twat, apparently), I have no doubt that she came out of the process far less affected by her condition than might have been the case.

I don’t in any way condemn my parents’ view. They are perfectly entitled to it, and as I understand it one of the prerequisites to any measure of success in therapy is a willingness to submit to the process. I just find it a little hard to understand. My father’s depression was treated, or at least fended off, when it occurred in the past by a combination of ECT and drugs. ECT has not been applied this time. The drugs haven’t completely worked. But this is where they continue to put their faith.

I remember when I studied Chaucer at A level learning about a Medieval debate over the difference between “proof” and “authority.” Authority was a scholarly view of the world that sought interpretation from approved texts. Proof relied on what you saw in front of you. Authority was viewed by some as over-riding proof, so that if (in a deliberately extreme example) enough classic texts said grass was red, then red it must be.

That may not be the analysis of a qualified Chaucerian scholar (it was so many years ago now that Chaucer may still have been classed as modern fiction), but I hope you see my point. My mum and dad put all their faith in doctors and drugs. In doing so, are they not relying on the authority of the medical solution rather than the proof of the therapeutic approach?

Nobody in my generation can really understand what it must have been like to have spent their formative years against the background of war. My mum’s dad was absent fighting Nazis in Africa and Italy for I think at least half of my mum’s first 10 years, during which the family suffered much hardship. Rationing didn’t come to an end until about 3 years after the end of the war. Things got much better in the 1960’s, and my parents are also part of a generation that has enjoyed unprecedented levels of material wealth and time to enjoy it. But those early years must have been very tough, and I don’t think that anybody who hasn’t experienced what they did can take any issue with the view that in many cases and at many times they had to show resolve, to make do, to cope. I imagine there was very little option if you didn’t. Perhaps it is from this that my parents’ suspicion of processes which ask you to dwell on, rather than paper over, the causes of your unhappiness arises?

I don’t believe that therapy can solve everything. If I hadn’t had the indirect exposure to it that I have, I suspect my view might be very similar to mum’s. I’m not good at admitting weakness about myself, and I imagine I would struggle to seek help if ever I needed to (although the Beautiful Armenian might not give me much choice). But for the potential benefits to be so completely rejected by my parents?  Even in his currently much-recovered state, my dad is nothing more than a pale imitation of his former strong and life-loving self. Surely it must be worth trying everything available to address the underlying issues?

Half Term Fun (2) – Good Family Rows Cost Less at Sainsbury’s

The view as we crossed the Thames

After Day 1 of the trip, we were under strict instructions not to ring the doorbell of the student house when we left the car outside.  We didn’t, and we got a text from the Small Boy Wonder soon afterwards saying all was well (although the Very Precious Daughter had taken him to a student party).

The Beautiful Armenian and I then spent a lovely day in London.  We went to the Courtauld Gallery (see this post for more detail), wandered across the Thames to the South Bank and then made leisurely progress to where we were to meet our treasured offspring for a quick cup of tea prior to a whiz round Sainsbury’s – one of the various stealth taxes that goes with being the parents of a student.

The VPD ceased being a teenager a little while ago.  But so stunning was her performance in that role – with such utter conviction did she make it her own – that she has been invited by the NCATB (National Council for Appalling Teenage Behaviour) to stay on in an honorary capacity.  And this afternoon she confirmed what an outstanding decision that was.

After talking about holidays for next year (including something potentially very special) and what we might do on her birthday, we had a conversation that went something like this:

PARENTS: You asked us yesterday if you and your four housemates could all come and stay with us for a night a few days before Xmas.

DAUGHTER:  I did.  We’ll be on a tour of the country visiting all 5 home towns, and having a night out on the lash in each one.

PARENTS: We’ve talked about it overnight and although we love seeing your friends we just don’t think it’s reasonable to ask for this in the week before Xmas.

DAUGHTER (tossing head): I knew you’d be like this.  I almost didn’t bother asking.

PARENTS:  We’re normally very happy for your friends to stay whenever you like, and to come on holiday with us as well. But you know how much we’ve got on at that time of year.  Any other time would be fine, but on this occasion we’re saying no.

DAUGHTER:  I just hate it when we have these conversations.  All the other parents have said yes, by the way

PARENTS:  Sorry. We’re not.

DAUGHTER: Well you do realise this means I won’t be able to spend as much time with you guys at Xmas, don’t you?

PARENTS:  Really?  How does that work?

DAUGHTER: Because we’ll now have to do the trip after Xmas and so it will eat into the time I would have spent with you.  But if that’s how you want it, it’s your choice.

My Total Bollocks Detector was beginning to flash red at this point.  The Beautiful Armenian doesn’t have quite such a high spec model, and I could see she was beginning to wobble.  The VPD hadn’t gone into a full eruption, but experienced observers were looking with concern at the gathering clouds. The government was on the brink of cancelling all flights over the south of England.  The VPD then unleashed her “You really are the world’s worst parents” look and announced that she needed to get on so could we go to Sainsbury’s now please.

She stormed off.  As we followed in her wake, I said that I had very serious doubts that the trip would ever have got off the ground, but that we shouldn’t give in to this sort of pressure.  The Beautiful A saw it in an even dimmer light.  She felt she was being bullied.  Right conclusion.  Worrying implications for the rest of the afternoon.

If I said that the first 5 minutes in Sainsbury’s were chilled and relaxed, I would be misleading you ever so slightly.  But at least things were finding their way into the trolley.  We then all got separated and at this point TBA decided that of the bullying she was having none.  Telling the VPD that she had spent too much of her life pretending that everything was OK when it wasn’t, she explained (quietly but unambiguously) that she found it unacceptable for the VPD to try to force us to agree to her request under threat of a disrupted Xmas.

The VPD said that she could see this, and that she was very sorry for the upset she had caused.

That last sentence is my little joke.  The little darling in fact completely went off on one.  She denied that this is what she had said, and turned the volume of her indignation up to 11.  She stormed off again – even by her standards twice in less than 10 minutes is quite something.  She also demonstrated admirable female multi-tasking skills by simultaneously displaying complete moral outrage and continuing her progress round fruit juices, bread and cereals at our expense.

The four of us did convene briefly in frozen foods for an exchange of further denials and accusations, whilst pensioners with sticks and young mothers with double buggies tried to navigate their way round us.

What was most disappointing about all this was that it looked as though this would be how we would part company.

But long story short, we did in fact make our peace on the tube train back to where the Very Precious Daughter lives.  She didn’t climb down as such, but she did say that she had misunderstood what we were saying.  We let her have this way out.  And we all parted on good terms.

I’m writing this a couple of weeks after it happened.  A lot more has happened since (more on that another time).  But I feel that we have slightly redefined the nature of our relationship with the VPD, and that things are better for it.  I think she was genuinely caught out by her mother’s unexpected resolve.  And if you want to know the origins of that, look no further than the course and the therapy.

My daughter is beautiful.  She is talented.   She has wonderful friends, and is a wonderful friend to them.  She can be warm, funny, engaging, and she is always sincere.  She is deeply, deeply loved by us.

We’ve probably let her get away with too much at times in the past.  This probably won’t be the last time we have hours like this, nor the last time it will all seem so petty and inexplicable in retrospect.  Somehow  – and sometimes it takes a lot of hard work – we always seem to be able to get past these moments and move on.

Nobody ever said that being a parent would be easy.

Changes: What Your Wife Becoming a Psychotherapist Really Means

The Small Boy Wonder said something the other day which we felt showed a maturity well beyond his years.  We were talking about the shifting sands of friendship groups.  He said he had realised that change was interesting.  “It’s like reading a story.  You want to see where it leads to, what happens next.”

I share his view.  I think change is interesting.   I also think that is a view you need to have if your wife is going to undertake something so loaded with and precipitous of change as a masters degree in psychotherapy at the age of 45.  From where I sit now, I can see that it was rather like pressing the gamble button on a very successful marriage.  One which had already seen its fair share of stress and testing.  I read a magazine piece recently about a woman who had redefined herself completely in early middle age – lost a lot of weight and changed career.  This had all gone well, but it had also lead to divorce.   I was no longer the person my husband had fallen in love with, she said.

This could have happened to me and The Beautiful Armenian.  But looking back, I say with some conviction that taking this risk was inherently the right thing to do.  It would have been even if the end result had been less happy.   I’m not saying you should go out of your way to take risks with your marriage.  But this new calling is so clearly one of the things C was put on this planet to do.  When I see the radiant way her flower has bloomed, I do conclude that even if our relationship had struggled more to accommodate it – or perhaps had failed to accommodate it at all – it would still have been the right thing to do.  It would have been our responsibility – my responsibility – to have found a way to have made it worked.

Easy for me to say when the effect on our marriage of all this change has in fact been almost entirely positive?   Perhaps, but there is no doubt that three years ago we let the cosy bus go past and hopped onto the less comfortable one behind.

So what was this change?

There was some fairly obvious practical change.  The time demands of the course are considerable.  TBA suddenly became far less available to run the house in the way she had done for years.  She wouldn’t deny that many meals have been much more hastily prepared, and far fewer hours spent on cleaning and gardening, than in the past.

Then there are the study weekends.   Every few weeks she disappears off for three or four days at a time, leaving me to keep the family going, and to entertain myself.   Sometimes she comes back from those days in pieces, wanting little more than to be on her own, and then to sleep.   On occasion, it has taken her several days to recover fully from a weekend.

On the upside, she does sometimes come back with a rampant sexuality needing attention!

This has had an effect on our social life (the pattern of the weekends, that is, not the rampant sexuality).  We have entertained less, and we have lost contact with a few people who perhaps hadn’t been that close as friends.  I am naturally very private, usually more than happy with a weekend in which large parts of it are spent by myself.  But as our social life has for many years been centred more on C’s friends than mine, I have had to make a bit more effort to make sure that I don’t become too cut off.

The academic side of the course has probably been the hardest change to cope with.  C has had to overcome her profound mistrust of technology, relearn some old study stuff and some new tricks as well.  She’s had to read a small library of books, acquire a new lexicon and squeeze her naturally free and engaging writing style into the strait jacket of word counts and formal referencing.

We’ve spent a lot of money.  The change in our bank balance has not, so far, been positive!  If you happen to be reading this and thinking about doing something similar to C, I would implore you to be realistic about the financial cost .  Course fees, the cost of therapy and supervision, travel, books, going to conferences, food and coffee on the study weekends.  It all adds up.  It really adds up.

I will write about all these things separately.

But by far the biggest change, and the most far-reaching in its consequences, has been the change within C.  She’s been through therapy.  This has meant many, many hours of thoroughly professional interaction with an experienced and highly trained specialist, a process of intense and sometimes painful reflection and self-analysis, and the subtle application of an impressive body of academic thought.  What’s the result been?   Easy.  My wife is no longer taking any sh*t.  From anyone.  Ever again.

Her fundamentally gentle nature hasn’t changed; she’s just as much a stranger to malice and spite as ever she was; and the process has accentuated not eroded the fact that her greatest gift, her most wondrous quality, is the ability to love – selflessly and profoundly to love.  But she has changed, and the change is irreversible.  She has developed a quiet, but very effective, assertiveness.  She now deals with life on terms.

And this, of course, has changed things between us.  How could it not have?  It’s not easy to describe what this has been, but our marriage is now a relationship of equals, a relationship between two adults.  There was nothing unhealthy about it before, and I certainly wasn’t amongst those from whom she was taking all the sh*t.  It was a deeply loving and very successful marriage.  However, my role in it (on the emotional side at least) was sometimes that of a parent, and I think C was driven quite significantly by the fear of it not lasting.   This led her to idealise it, and me, somewhat.

All of that is now gone.  For some people, that may have been too much, especially when coupled with all the other change.  But it has, in fact, been fantastic.  Who would have thought that coming down off a pedestal would be so much fun.  But I’ve come down into a relationship that is without any doubt even stronger than it was before.

The Beautiful Armenian is on her course today.  And I’m sitting here wondering what the chances are that it will be the sex-hungry version who comes rolling through the door this evening!

Doldrums

The good ship Masters Degree is rather becalmed at the moment.  TBA has spent the last couple of months trying to set up a new placement, and coordinating the ones she is already doing, so that she can concentrate her working hours into a couple of days.  Half the world’s glaciers move faster than the administrative arms of some of the organisations she is dealing with, and progress has been slow.  She’s effectively lost half a term doing this, and it’s looking increasingly likely that the end of the voyage will be pushed out even further.

But although this has been frustrating at times, it has meant that life has been relatively normal since the beginning of the summer now.   C has been clocking up the voluntary hours, chipping away slowly at the huge number she has to get through before she qualifies, and doing some preparatory reading for the massive pieces of work yet to come.  But she can’t get started in earnest until the placements are sorted.  So the stress levels are relatively low.

Extending the finishing time by (I think) a full year will be rather a pain, but if it means that the experience from here on in is a little less intense, then it’s probably worth it.  Also, she’s starting to get some financial help with some of the supervision costs, and there is the prospect that for one of her placements, she may even be able to start charging clients in a few months.

However, I’m not going to start planning my retirement just yet.

Psychotherapy Course

Some time ago my wife (known here as the Beautiful Armenian, or C) started a masters degree in psychotherapy, with the intention of qualifying and practising as a person-centred psychotherapist.  Before this she had been concentrating on bringing up our three children, supporting me in a demanding job, and running our home.

It had always been her heartfelt wish to devote her time and energy to home-making.  When the children were younger, she couldn’t.  Our eldest son was born at a time when I was going through a career change.  Money was tight, and things hadn’t improved a great deal when the Very Precious Daughter came along a few years later.  And so C kept her teaching career going for longer than she would have wanted.  However, when our third child was born, my work was going much better, and not long after that she was able to give up work completely.

I think she might have been quite happy to continue living the life she then carved out for herself indefinitely.  She did a great job overseeing some home-improvement projects, she played a big role in running a community initiative, and she ran the home.  From my point of view, I was largely freed from domestic tasks.  But as the children grew up I began to challenge C on what she saw herself doing once her role as a full-time mother diminished, and also asked her to consider whether having more than one source of income might have advantages for us later on.

She listened.  She went through a training course to become a counsellor for a charity.  Then she signed up for a full-on, masters degree in psychotherapy.  It’s described as part-time, but that’s about as an accurate a description as Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute recipes.  The course has certainly involved far more hours and and far more effort each week, than I had to put in to my first degree, many years ago.

And it has been one of our big life events.  It’s up there in the top five – top three maybe – alongside things like the birth of our children, my career change, and our decision to leave the heart of London’s commuter belt.

Occasionally somebody says something which surprises you so much that you have to stop and think before you answer.  One of these moments happened about a year into the course, when C said to me that she could see that she had become bored in what she was doing before.  A big, big admission.  What would have happened if she had just let things drift?

If we look back at our lives so far, we might say that certain things – certain major things – have happened to us without us asking for them to happen.  Having a gay son; an anorexic daughter; multiple interactions with depression; miscarriages.  And more.

But it’s also clear that we don’t like just to sit back and see what life has got to throw at us.  We also like to hand it a few slings and arrows to hurl in our direction, just to see how we get on.

C doing this course is one of those things, and I hope to share some of the experience, and more importantly some of the change, which this has created through this blog.

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