When the seven-year itch arrived, as it did fashionably late in the eighth year
of our gay marriage, it caught me off guard. I mean, come on: we were the
Valdes Greenwoods, paragons of domestic bliss, so happy I even wrote a weekly
newspaper column about it. In retrospect, that seems like hubris -- and we all
know what pride comes before.
On the morning of our eighth anniversary, we were barely speaking. A subject we
shall call The Elephant had entered our lives. Elephants are big, and we live
in a small house. You can imagine the effect of sharing 700 square feet with
such a large creature. It didn't matter that this was a metaphoric elephant; it
seized as much room as it could, crowding us off into opposite corners, where
we were barely able to see each other past its hulking mass.
We had not prepared for The Elephant's move into our home. It had taken us a
full year even to hang art on the living-room wall, and we still had
half-painted areas upstairs. To say that we hadn't factored in room for The
Elephant -- or considered how to negotiate around one in the unlikely event of
its arrival -- is an understatement. But here was the beast, looming over us
and casting baleful glances our way, as we cowered in our corners, hurling
invective across the room.
We argued about who was most responsible. For each emotional equivalent of "I
never wanted to live in a zoo," there came a rejoinder of, "Well, you're the
one who brought the damn thing into the house!" Round and round we went, until
we got tired of shouting over what we couldn't see past and lapsed into
silence. Quiet can be calming, but not when you use the time to nurse a grudge
or blame the man you love for bringing home The Elephant. Something had to
The answer suggested itself to us in whispers: get therapy. Now, we're not a
therapy couple. Till recently, all our counseling has come from calling our
best friends on the West Coast or simply talking things through with each
other. We're a couple that eats breakfast and dinner together every day, so
most of our processing comes at the table. But past dinner conversations didn't
usually revolve around "you suck" and "you suck more." At a loss as to how to
make progress, and with a mammoth obstacle snoozing in the living room, we knew
we had to act like civilized, modern grown-ups and find ourselves a
At first, we approached this task with all the secrecy of a spy mission: no
friends or family were involved, and our search consisted mostly of looking at
counseling ads in a gay newspaper. We called our HMO and got names that didn't
mean anything to us and made lists of questions to ask faceless people. The
Elephant may have been imaginary, but the very real therapists seemed nearly as
intangible and spectral. Maybe that's why we didn't call any of them right
away. Instead, we let things simmer until it was all gloom, all the time.
But then, in the midst of our funk, a beam of light broke through. As we
finally began to tell friends about our situation, a curious pattern emerged:
we discovered that many of the long-term couples we know had already gone
through therapy together. One wife had left her husband before they endured
months of counseling so brutal that they couldn't ride in the same car to get
there, only to emerge happy and back together. One lesbian friend, bouncing her
child on her lap, just chuckled, "Oh, we've been down that road!"
Suddenly, all these couples that were like us in surface ways turned out to be
like us in invisible ways, too. We'd had no clue that, for couples of our
generation, therapy was the emotional Home Depot: the first stop for
relationship repair. It was like discovering a secret handshake, or seeing your
uncle's Shriner fez for the first time -- a realization that a whole other
world exists behind the façade of the world around you. And if that was
true, well, maybe it wasn't so weird to find ourselves a good doctor with
You can imagine the first few calls: "Uh, hi, my gay husband and I need to talk
to someone who has dealt with same-sex couples with Elephant
issues . . . " Somehow, just talking about finding a
therapist landed us on the same side of the room again. No, The Elephant wasn't
gone, but he was lurking off to one side, where we could both keep an eye on
him. And every call seemed to dispel a bit more of the gloom.
Of course, if you've ever had therapy, you know what comes next in the story:
the impossibility of getting an appointment. Every time we got a recommendation
from someone, the therapist in question turned out to be free only at, say,
9:48 a.m. on workdays in his remote office in Nova Scotia. A social worker
explained that HMOs only approve a certain number of therapists, in hopes that
the wait will be long enough that you'll break down and pay for a non-approved
counselor out of your own pocket instead.
This appalling practice has made our progress slow on one front, but it's come
with an unexpected bonus: now we're fighting the system together. There's
nothing like a common enemy to bond a couple, and "Fuck the HMO bastards!"
might as well be "Go team!" When we're making phone calls, filling out
insurance paperwork, and comparing notes, we act like the couple we once were
and hope to be -- when The Elephant finally leaves the room -- once again.
David Valdes Greenwood can be reached at email@example.com.
Issue Date: April 5 - 11, 2002