We hope you enjoy this excerpt from Warren and Betsy Talbot’s fourth book, Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World. You can find out more about the book and their story of relationship renewal in their bio at the end of the article.
We finally went to a therapist to see if he could fix us. The office was in an old building on Main Street, and we both left work early to make the appointment. That showed commitment, right? Neither one of us knew what to expect. This marriage therapist had the look of a distracted genius, sitting behind a large desk full of papers, envelopes, and books. With his gray and black beard, slightly too long hair, and wire-rimmed glasses, he reminded us more of a college professor than a therapist. We settled onto mismatched chairs among the stacks of books on the floor and then we just stared at him, neither one of us knowing what to say. Was this a test? Were we passing or failing? As always, we were concerned with how we looked from the outside.
He smiled and finally asked us why we were there, and we hemmed and hawed. The answer required honesty, and we weren’t quite ready to go that far. To say it out loud would make it true. To dodge the bullet of full disclosure, we sugarcoated our problems and softened the strength of our feelings. Ironically, we came together to downplay the severity of our disconnect, acting as if we’d almost stumbled into his office by accident while out shopping. He must have known we were hiding our problems, as we can’t have been the first couple to do it. But we thought we were so smart, checking off the “see a marriage therapist” box in the accepted list of “how to fix your relationship” actions. How long did we have to see him before we could say we’d really tried?
We found our escape by ganging up on the therapist after each session. “He talks too much,” we’d say. “Do you think he’s even married himself?” we’d ask. “I don’t think he can help us,” we’d agree. After just two sessions, we called it quits, blaming him for not being able to cure us when we withheld every important piece of information from him and from each other.
As time went by, we mostly ignored the growing distance. Work consumed us, as did fixing up our house, and we spent our time making sure our relationship looked good from the outside. If that were true, then the inside would surely fix itself.
I got a promotion. Warren got a raise. We had the outside of the house painted from sunny yellow and blue to a more somber gray with black shutters and a red door. The yard was landscaped. This work on the exterior of our lives was the solution to the interior problems. Or so we thought.
It wasn’t until we met at the Denver International Airport that we realized things were at rock bottom. If we could only make time together in an airport 2000 miles away from home, our priorities were out of whack. It was time to acknowledge the elephant in the room and make a decision one way or another.
Are we in this together? Really in this? If so, we knew we had to start acting like it.
As I waited for Warren to return home from his business trip after our date at the Denver airport, I thought about the start of our relationship, how we drifted together, and the sparks that flew once we collided. It was electric back then, and now we couldn’t even muster the equivalent of a burst of static electricity from walking in socks across carpet. I knew Warren was thinking the same thing: What in the hell happened? Where did that bright hot blinding love, lust, and joy go, that willingness to move together toward adventure and the unknown? Were we finally realizing the impact of opposites attracting and changing into something else?
Those hot, sexy people who leaped into this opportunity together were not the same drab, boring couple who currently occupied their house, performed their jobs, and sometimes couldn’t stand to be in the same room together.
How did we get so far apart? Was there a path back, and did we even want to make that journey? Those were all questions for our reunion, and we weren’t sure how it was going to play out.
The Saturday morning after the Denver airport dinner we brewed a pot of coffee and sat down across from each other at the kitchen table.
“What is it you really want?” Warren asked.
It was easier for me to tell him what I didn’t want: the long commute, the big house, a life in the lonely suburbs, the lack of control over my work schedule and inability to have a social life. The lack of friends even if we did have time for a social life. The lack of connection with him and the doubts about our commitment to each other. The lack of passion and feeling of being unwanted and overlooked. The lack of even a variety of food choices in our small bedroom community. I think he was shocked at the list of negatives that came out of my mouth. So was I.
The relief of saying it all out loud caused me to realize the enormity of our problems. I felt a lack in every area of my life, both with him and without him. But saying it out loud also gave me an insight I didn’t have before. And at that moment, I realized most of it was of my own making. Every single thing I listed could be changed. It was a flash of insight, a glimpse into a different future, and it both thrilled and terrified me.
Want more? Check out Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World, out now!