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!