For a large number of people, the one thing they want from counseling is to be reassured that they are normal. Once they have a fix on that question and can answer in the affirmative, they are content to settle in and deal with the challenges in front of them.
Now I’m aware that it’s no easy task to determine or define what is normal and what is not. I’m not about to explain the answer to that question to anyone’s satisfaction in this little piece. But if you think of “normal” as responding to an experience in a fashion similar to others—emotionally, relationally, and spiritually—I will suggest again that many people come to counseling to have their “I am normal, aren’t I?” ticket punched.
Recently a couple came to see me for the first time. They had dated briefly, then married only a few weeks before business would take him out of the country for several months. They were young, married, and in love. At least that’s what she thought. While he was away, he contacted two old friends from high school and made an inappropriate request of them. He had dated one of these ladies; the other had been a confidant, but never a romantic partner.
Neither of the friends even responded to his requests, but when he returned home’ his wife found his emails to the two young women in his “sent” box. She was destroyed. Her first thought was to end the marriage. She wasn’t even going to tell him why she was leaving. Her heart and their history wouldn’t allow her to leave. Instead she confronted him. When she did so, he admitted everything. Well, eventually he admitted it all. This gave her hope. After several weeks of trying to manage this on their own, they came to see me. They had made some progress, but they felt stuck as they attempted to move on.
Calling upon 28 years of counseling experience, I was able to summarize for them what they would probably be going though as they sought to heal from this wounding. I suggested the following five points to guide them.
1. It bothered her that when she had initially challenged him with what she knew, he had denied any wrongdoing. Later he did tell her everything. I was able to say that in my quarter of a century of doing counseling, no one that I had ever worked with had been completely honest in admitting their impropriety the first time they were confronted.
2. They would be feeling different emotions in response to this situation. He would feel more guilt or shame; she would be more likely to be angry and hurt. Their nods as I described this indicated that this was true for them.
3. She would want to know the “why?” of what he did and he would be unable to tell her. I affirmed both responses, but suggested that until he could tell her something about the why, she would worry that this could happened again. If they could at least point at something to repair, she would find it easier to look ahead. These would be explanations, not excuses. We discussed this for a few minutes in the session and he was able to give her one or two reasons that made some sense to her.
4. We discussed the fact that trust would be compromised for a while. She wanted to trust, but found it difficult to do so. He wanted things to quickly go back to the way they were before. I reminded them that there were always two sides to trust. The person who had acted inappropriately would need to behave trustworthily. He would have to allow her to see his call log and text messages on his cell phone and to have access to his email account. He would need to be honest about where he had been and whom he had talked to. If that didn’t happen trust could not be rebuilt. She would at some point would make a decision to once again trust. There are no guarantees in relationships, but would pledge never to do anything like this again, and she would promise to forgive and move on.
5. Finally I gave them a tentative timeline. This process would take months, not days or weeks. On average it would be a year before they felt they were back to their routine. It might be as long as five years before this event was a part of their history.
At the end of the session, they were noticeably more relaxed. I gave them the title of a book that they could read together that might give them some additional helpful information and encouraged them to call if I could be of more help. I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t be contacting me, and they haven’t. Now that they were “normal” they didn’t need me.