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Couple Therapy Session

The Vacancy Factor

A Therapist's Cautionary Tale

You know that feeling you get when you’re watching a movie you’ve seen before and that character you’re rooting for is on the cusp of making a mistake you know will ultimately lead to their demise?  That very gut instinct is the basis behind this article. 

In my years as a therapist, I’ve heard a lot.  When I sense a client is on the verge of sharing something but there’s that hesitancy in their voice, that fear of judgement on their face, I will often reassure them that there’s little they can say that can shock me.  I don’t say this to minimize their problem, but to let them know that it’s probably not as bad as they think it is.  That they themselves are not bad or crazy or whatever else their insecurities might have them believe.

That being said, my experience as a clinician gives me behind the scenes access and as a result, an ability to warn those not yet too far gone of a disheartening and frustrating issue that pains me to run into in my practice. 

This is, The Vacancy Factor.

So what is this and why is it important?  I’m so glad you asked.  Today you will learn a little insight that I hope you will take with you and share with those you love. 

……….

Rarely do couples come to therapy when the thought first pops into their head.  Instead, the end result of you sitting on my couch looking past me into the beautiful scenery of palm trees blowing in the wind and white caps popping up in the churning ocean goes a little something like this: 

Your relationship starts off rainbows and butterflies.  You’re both on your best behavior, doing and saying all the right things to win each other over.  Life is wonderful.  Those rose-colored glasses are sitting snug on your nose. 

Fast forward six months later. 

The real you has slowly trickled in and your flaws are now revealed.  That’s okay, no one’s perfect.  You will accept and love each other for who you are.  Great. 

Jump ahead another two months. 

You’ve hit your first bump in the road.  Someone’s needs aren’t getting met and you’ve come to the realization that you don’t have the best way of communicating with each other.  No worries, every couple has spats.    

Moving on to the engagement.

Oh the stresses of planning a wedding.  Ugh.  The difficulties of blending two very different families and trying to attend to everyone’s preferences.  You consider premarital counseling, but decide you’ve got this.  Once the honeymoon hits you’ll be living in wedded bliss.  Oh, the naïveté.

One year into marriage.

Now you’ve come to understand what people always told you about how marriage is work.  Holy matrimony takes a heck of a lot of intentionality and effort to be truly successful.  The relationship has ebbed and flowed.  Sure, you’ve experienced setbacks, but you’re in it for the long haul, so you let things slide.  Because your degree is not in communication, conflict seems a little scary.  Better to sweep some of this under the rug.

Year two.

You’ve developed some unhealthy patterns.  You’ve brought up therapy, but only in the heat of the moment and never once the tension subsided.  You most likely would rate the relationship completely different.  Maybe he’d say an eight, she’d say a four.  Both would be shocked by the other’s response.  But still, counseling is really for super dysfunctional people, right? 

Wrong.

Three plus years, maybe sooner.

There are definitely issues to be addressed.  Counseling is not only recommended, but urged.  One of you is willing but the other just doesn’t think things are that bad.  This cycle continues until…

A)     You both agree it’s time, you research which clinician is right for you, and jump in with both feet.  You overcome your difficulties and implement the strategies given to you by the professional.  You look back and can’t believe how far you’ve come.  Who would’ve thought you could be this happy in marriage?

B)     Neither one presses the issue and you continue on with your unhealthy interaction sequences, continually negatively reinforcing the very behavior you’re begging for.  Your relationship may or may not survive, but either way it’s a far cry from what you intended in the beginning.

C)     One of you continues to plead for counseling.  It’s the only way true change can occur.  If you really want to stay together you’ll give it a shot.  It’s the last hope, the only way to work through all the hurt.  The cries for help go on and on until they finally stop.  The silence is so odd.  No more begging.  No more reasoning.  No more of anything, really.

I’m hoping every person reading this will choose A.  I say choose because truly, it is a choice.  If so, congratulations!  I’m so happy for you.  Give it all you’ve got and you’ll never be the same, for the better of course.

If you choose B, hopefully it’s early enough into it to reroute your course to A.

If you choose C, you, my friend are unfortunately the very person I am writing this entry to forewarn.  You have encountered The Vacancy Factor.

You see, The Vacancy Factor is when a partner once willing, beyond willing to save their relationship, to do whatever it takes, gives up.  I call it The Vacancy Factor because that person you now wish would beg to schedule a couples session has checked out.  While they may still be there physically, it’s only for the purpose of adequately preparing an exit strategy.  So vacancy in the sense that, the lights are on but no one’s home.  Ugh.  If there were words to express how this scenario breaks my heart.  It truly is tragic. 

Okay.  I’ve answered the what.  Now I’ll give you the why.  Why is The Vacancy Factor important and why am I spending my Saturday afternoon warning you about it?  Because it is preventable.  Your relationship can be saved.  If you’ve read any of my other work then you already know my stance.  Barring extreme cases of abuse, most everything else can be overcome.  If – and only if – both parties are willing to do the work and make the changes.  I’m writing this in the hopes that it will reach even one couple before it’s too late. 

Maybe there’s a way to overcome The Vacancy Factor.  If so, trust me, I will find that way.  But as it stands, in my experience, there does come a time when it’s Just. Too. Late.  I hate that, as a champion for marriage, I hate it more than most.  But it’s a fact of life, my friend.

So please, for the love of all that’s good in this world, please don’t let it get that far.  If you love your partner, if you want to make it work, if you’re even the slightest bit willing, let them schedule that couples session.  I promise you, it’s not going to be nearly as bad as you think it will be.  And even if it is that bad, that’s kinda what we’re trained to help with.  Regardless, just go.  Just give it a shot.  Trust me, you do not want to experience option C.  The pain on clients' faces when they’re sitting on that couch, beating themselves up for not trying sooner.  The heartbreak of knowing they could have saved it if they didn’t let pride, fear, uncertainty, or whatever get in the way.  That hurt is why I’m warning you in advance. 

If this cautionary tale has spoken to you and you are ready to choose option A, click on over to my appointment request page.  I can’t wait to help you on your path to healing.

Until then,

Jennifer