Top Secret Confidential Marriage Stuff

What an interesting weekend. I started my Saturday morning with a series of sessions with couples who collectively represent over 100 years of marriage, and ended my Saturday evening by attending the wedding of a beautiful, young family friend – dressed in a glowing white dress with deep purple lilies and a Ken doll-looking groom. Having had two weddings of my own, both vastly different from one another and being a marriage and family counselor, I’ve seen marriage look so remarkably different from one couple to the next. When people find out what I do for a living, I typically receive one of two polarized reactions: they either want to tell me everything about their lives (which is ok, except I don’t need to hear about your sex life on our first friend date), or they want to get as far away from me as possible (conversation comes to a screeching halt, cue the high-pitched record player needle scratching painfully off of a classic vinyl). Sometimes, it’s the idea of being friends with someone who might see something you don’t want seen; other times, it’s that conversations about my work life don’t go very far – being top secret confidential and all.

The thing is that, while as a society, we are fascinated with relationships, sexuality, connections, procreation and other people’s problems, we rarely acknowledge the fear of others’ perceptions of our own relationships, working so hard to seem happy. My local comedienne friend puts it wonderfully as she describes her memories of her young family’s trips to church being neck-deep in parental and spousal tension, then walking into their church building with smiles and waves … all the while, digging a death-grip into the back of her children’s necks as a warning that they better appear to be “good Christian children.” From a therapist’s point of view, we do a silly charade for our friends and family when we pretend to be ok, and yet, pretending to be ok is sometimes what shows us that we are capable of acting with love and devotion to our spouse, even when we’re not really feelin’ it.

When they find out what I do, so many have asked me, “Wow. What’s that like? Listening to people’s problems all day?” It’s not complicated. Humans are really pretty simple: we want to feel accepted, we want to be protected from harm, and we want to receive comfort when we are in pain. On Saturday, I sat in a church pew with my son sitting on my lap, and I marveled at the day’s juxtaposition of the distressed couples in my office and the newlywed couple in front of me, robed in the most beautiful clothing of their lives. With the passage of time, we can simultaneously seek and sabotage connection in the way we approach and withdraw from our partners. The new couple lacks the experiences of life’s pain testing their connection to one another, but with time, it will come. It is when we feel the threat of non-acceptance, lack of emotional safety, or the discomfort of shame, loneliness, anger, guilt, hurt or sadness that we need our romantic partner to be present with us. When they are not or cannot be, or when they are the source of our pain, we react with natural fight and flight survival tactics.

The internet offers so many insights on how to make a marriage successful, and this could just be another one of those posts. That’s not what Kansas City Moms Blog is about, though. This is about offering real resources to KC moms, and by extension, to the romantic partners who support them. The hard part about this goal is that it’s local, so the threat of others’ perceptions of our own marriage relationships is in our backyard. We can keep pretending with smiles and waves, suffering quietly as we wonder if we’re alone in the experience of marriage. Or we can begin to air our need for marital help anonymously, feeling less shame and loneliness as a community of moms.

Photo credit: Allison Corrin Photography
Photo credit: Allison Corrin Photography

This ongoing series is designed to answer a need in our Kansas City community, answering real KC moms’ questions about marriage and romantic partnership. If you have a question or scenario you’d like to run by our resident marriage counselor, you can submit them here. Don’t want to be identified by name? Make one up, like “Sexy Mama,” “Laundry Slave” or “Headed for Divorce.” Featured questions will be selected by our KCMB team and individual responses cannot be guaranteed (depending on the volume of questions received).

We look forward to hearing from you!

Vanessa Knight has been a part of the Kansas City community for 11 years (a native Texan), living in the Overland Park area with husband Josh, two children (Sophie is 6, Jude is 5), and three Labradors. A clinical marriage and family counselor serving the area, Vanessa works with those who hurt from life experiences, relationships or trauma, helping both individuals and families to love (www.securecounselingclinic.com). When she's not working, Vanessa's favorite stay-at-home things are Sequence, puzzles, picnics on the Nelson-Atkins Museum lawn, messy art projects, and trampoline jumping!