Recently someone asked me, "What is it like being married to a marriage and family therapist student?”
Tonight on a flight to Seattle when I saw Mt. Rainier gracefully emerge through the clouds I finally found my answer. I hate it. H.A.T.E. And by hate, I might mean love.
A few years ago I climbed Mt. Rainer via a technical route that includes a few hundred feet of ice climbing. Because of the many dangerous crevasses I was in a rope team with three other people. Unfortunately, two of the three people on my rope team decided to be tourists and take pictures every few minutes. Every time they stopped, the rope connecting us would go taut and I'd come to an abrupt halt. This constant, violent jerking strained my body more than I was prepared for.
At about at 13,000 feet above sea level, I was succumbing to altitude sickness.
In that moment I hated everything I was doing. It didn't matter that the sun was just starting to rise and the entire mountain reflected a transcendent palette of pinks and purples. It didn't matter that I was just 1,000 feet below the summit of one of the most technical routes on Mt. Rainer--the largest mountain in the continental US.
I hated all of it.
When we reached the summit everyone else was shedding jackets and celebrating. Instead, I pulled my big red down jacket from my pack, threw it on, and shivered violently--not even able to stand.
About we were finally back to base camp, more than 12 hours after we'd left. We packed our tents up and started the slog back to the ranger station about 6,000 vertical feet below us. By I was stuffing my face with the best tasting pizza I had ever had.
But at this point the two tourists and I had a decision to make. Did we start the 14 hour drive back to Provo, or find a hotel somewhere? I was beyond broke and had a flight to catch in less than 48 hours. So, motivated by destitution, and fueled by more Mountain Dew than I will ever admit, I drove the three of us 14 hours back to Provo, through the middle of the night, after climbing for 20 straight hours, while the two tourists snored soundly.
34 nearly sleepless hours later I was back in Provo HATING everything I had just done.
Strangely, the next day as I was on a plane headed to the east coast I was already dreaming of climbing Rainier again. I'd seemingly forgotten how much, in the moment, I hated everything about the experience. Suddenly it was one of the most incredible moments of my life!
Being married to a MFT student is something similar. On days where she had a good session, Erin's excitement is uncontainable! After a day filled with sessions that 'didn't go that well' she gets down on herself. While I try to be supportive, I'm learning I'm not that great with the whole 'emotion' thing. Fortunately Erin's life is consumed with helping people feel; connecting with their emotions. Being married to her means I don't get to just be "mad." I have to be one of the what she calls primary emotions--"disappointed", "sad", "scared", or "hurt." At first it all felt very artificial, but now I realize how emotionally bereft I can sometimes be.
A huge focus for Erin's program is "self of the therapist." For her, that means being acutely aware of her own issues and weaknesses so that she can learn to not let them interfere with her therapy. For me, it means that at least weekly she comes home with probing questions about herself, me, and our relationship.
I knew when she was accepted into BYU's program that in a way I was getting accepted too. As part of Erin's program she started going to individual therapy. Soon after, WE started seeing a therapist. Being honest, I hate it. But I hate it in the same way that I hated my experience on Mt. Rainier. In the moment you can't picture anything more repulsive, painful, demanding, or discouraging. And then you realize that you just paid a lot of money for that "privilege"!
But somehow when it's all over you realize just how transcendent and elevating the experience was.
I have a profound respect and admiration for everything that Erin is doing. Every day she is pushing herself to overcome weaknesses and better connect with her emotions so she can help others do the same. Frequently she feels like she hasn't made any progress. The truth? Being married to her I can hardly believe the amount of change I've witnessed in the last few months. It's a big part of why I hate being married to an MFT student. Watching her work so hard pushes me to work on my own issues. I can't just "coast" for a bit, and I hate it.
Sitting in the Seattle airport, all I can do is dream about climbing Mt Rainier again. I think I might actually love being married to a MFT student, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I look forward to the coming months while Erin is in school because we're closer than we have ever been. My love for her is deeper and my respect and admiration grows daily.
So I guess when people ask me what it's like being married to a MFT student I should just give them the short version and say, "It's awesome."