Bumper Sticker:”We Don’t Have Fun Like We Used To. Duhh! We’re Married”
Jennifer phoned me. She said her marriage was in serious trouble. She asked for an appointment with her husband as soon as possible. I saw them later that day.
I shook hands with Jennifer and Carl and motioned them toward the blue sofa in my office. They sat down more than an arm’s length apart. Carl had intense blue eyes and a restrained smile. Jennifer was a beautician with large brown eyes and swept back auburn hair. Both were in their thirties.
“How can I help you?”
Carl sat back: “I talk better when someone else takes the lead.” He’s the thinker, a software engineer, very rational.
Jennifer said, “I feel criticized all the time. I can’t take it anymore. He needs a clean house. It has to be his way!” She glared at him.
He glared back. “The truth is I can’t say anything. Whatever I say hurts her feelings. I’m the enemy. I’ve given up.” He shook his head.
“You’re just like your father! An obsessive neat nick. No one can live up to your standards. Your father has a spotless house and a loveless marriage.” She threw up her hands.
He looked at me. “You can see why I don’t try to talk to her. She either talks over me or we fight. And it’s always my fault!” He glanced out the window over my shoulder.
“I gave up smoking to please him.”
“So saving your life was just about me?”
“Last week I moved out of our bedroom.” She turned away from him.
“I can’t be honest with her. She doesn’t want to hear me.”
“He used to be fun and tell jokes, but not anymore.”
“What got you together?” I asked.
She sat back and looked down at her nails. “We fell in love at my boss’s party and talked till five in the morning. I thought it was love at first sight.” She smiled sadly.
He turned slowly toward her. “I was instantly attracted to her,” he said. “Of all the women I met she seemed the only one for me.”
“Now we’re close to divorce,” she said. “We haven’t had any fun since we married, less than a year ago.”
“Who said marriage is fun?” I asked playfully.
“I mean it!” she said. “We don’t enjoy ourselves! I’m getting ready to work week-ends so I can totally support myself.”
“She’s right,” Carl said. “We don’t enjoy ourselves like we used to. We co-exist.”
No smile on either of their faces.
My playfulness didn’t cut it. “What d’ya do for fun?”
“I love to dance,” she said. Her eyes sparkled.
“Then why don’t you dance?”
“Because I don’t dance,” Carl replied. “I like woodworking, but we can’t do that together.”
“Why don’t you dance?”
“I’m not good at it.” He wiggled his foot.
“Neither am I but that doesn’t stop me.” I leaned forward. “When’s the last time you danced?”
“At our wedding,” she said. Her smile was like the sun breaking through a dark cloud.
“I took dancing lessons,” I said, hoping my story would help them. “I found it hard to remember the steps. Before every class I’d have to review them, and I still made mistakes.”
He grinned and nodded.
“What’s more, I was expected to lead. It would’ve worked a lot better if my wife had led. She’s a great dancer. She knows the steps. I still haven’t figured out why men are supposed to lead when women are better dancers. For every Fred Astaire there must be twenty Ginger Rogers.”
I turned to Carl. “How does it benefit you to say you don’t dance?”
“That’s just the way it is.” He folded his arms across his chest.
“But how does it help you to limit yourself?” I opened my hands toward him. “I bet you’re like me. You don’t like to do anything unless you do it well.”
He nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.”
“The problem is—how do you get good at anything without trying? And who’s good at the start? Even now, I have to dance a few steps before I get my legs back, and once I do I’m still not that good. But I know my wife loves it.”
“You do it for her?” he asked.
“Yeah. She loves it.”
He unfolded his arms. “You’re right. It doesn’t do me any good to say I don’t dance. It reminds me how my mother used to wince when my father said, ‘I don’t do flowers.’”
I looked straight into his eyes. “Will you take Jennifer dancing tonight? After all, she gave up smoking for you.” It was Saturday.
“Yeah,” he said.
I nodded my approval.
I turned to Jennifer. “Will you appreciate Carl, and everything he does tonight? Start with his taking you out, his going dancing, and every correct step he takes while dancing with you.”
“I will.” She clapped her hands.
“The way it works is you get more of what you appreciate. You get less of what you don’t. If you want him to keep dancing, keep encouraging him. Tell him how much you appreciate whatever he does that you like.”
“I’ve learned I attract what I believe,” she said. “Now I see how my fear we’d never dance again helped stop our dancing.”
“You’re perceptive.” I nodded at Jennifer. “Taking responsibility for our fears is the surest way to change. I, for example, don’t find it easy to have fun. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I don’t want to have fun or that I dislike it. But there’s a voice in me that says fun is frivolous, it’s a waste of time when I should be doing something serious.”
“You sound guilty,” Carl said.
“I am. At times I feel guilty for having fun. At the same time I know that fun is joyful and brings us together. Laughing together is the best medicine. But it’s not easy for me.”
“It’s like you read my mind,” Carl said. “I’m too serious. I work hard and I play hard. Yet at times I don’t let up and allow myself to have fun, or just laugh out loud.”
Carl and Jennifer left my office holding hands.
Two weeks later Jennifer started our next meeting. She had a blonde streak through her hair. “You won’t believe what happened,” she said.
“Carl took me dancing like he said he would. We had a fabulous time! He danced the best he ever has, and I kept praising him.”
“You had fun again?”
“Not just fun,” she answered. “We fell in love again!” She tilted her head back and laughed an infectious laugh.
“I had a good time too,” Carl said as he smiled. “With Jen’s encouragement I danced better. It felt so good I’m willing to do it again.” He sat forward. “I’m glad you got us dancing.”
“I only encouraged you. The two of you had to make it happen, and you did. Congratulations!”
“Could you see us again in two weeks?” Carl asked.
We set up an appointment.