Plan something for next year? Not while we're in therapy..
August 24, 2009 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Would it be unreasonable to ask my spouse not to discuss and make distant future plans while we are in couples therapy?

In couples therapy for many months now (married 11 years)...going so-so to OK. Am trying to stay in the here and now and work on the relationship. Spouse frequently makes reference to things we need to plan for in the wayyyyyy too distant future (e.g., wedding of a cousin a year from now, Bar Mitzvah of another cousin 2 years from now). Internally, I'm having difficulty and anxiety about planning for the future when I don't know how things are going to be this week, much less next month or next year. Would asking for a "moratorium" on discussing future plans be viewed as fatalistic about the relationship?
posted by teg4rvn to Human Relations (38 answers total)
Not at all. In fact, it might be smart to discuss that directly. Your spouse might actually be bringing up those plans as an indirect way of testing the waters on how committed you are to the long term. If you're not, yet, then it's misleading to discuss them, and they may be drawing false conclusions from whatever you say, either way. They may be looking for the assurance that though things are rough now, you plan to stay in for the long haul. That may not actually be correct, and if so, they need to know that.

It may function as a "No, this is really super serious" wake-up call for them.
posted by Miko at 10:11 AM on August 24, 2009

I think it would depend on how you phrased it -- I wouldn't call it a 'moratorium,' for one! That sounds, to me, like you never want to talk about it ever.

Why not phrase it like this: "I'm finding it a real challenge to stay focused on the current problems we're facing, and would prefer it if you wouldn't ask me to make decisions about events that are taking place more than a year away." Bring the focus back to what you're currently managing, and if he objects, tell him it's making you anxious and if there's no need to think about it right now (i.e. you don't need to IMMEDIATELY book a hotel for something 2 years away), then it would be better for your state of mind to either not deal with it right now or leave anything non-critical to his discretion.
posted by at 10:11 AM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh, but P.S. - it might be best to bring it up in therapy where you can have some facilitation of that discussion.
posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Instead of just asking, why not discuss how it makes you feel (e.g. that she isn't taking your point of view seriously) in couples therapy?
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:12 AM on August 24, 2009

I would view it as such, especially in light of the fact that you say the therapy is going "so-so to Ok." I don't think that you are out of line for requesting it, but if I received such a request, I wouldn't feel too confident on the outcome of the therapy.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2009

No, I'd see it as keeping on track. It has nothing to do with "I'm not sure we're still going to be together by the time cousin Joe gets married." I'm surprised the therapist isn't doing this - he/she's not an event planner, so why are Bar Mitzvahs even coming up? I'd bring it up DURING the session while you have the therapist as mediator.
posted by desjardins at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2009

Just wondering, what needs to be planned about these events so far in advance? Can you just say "let's wait until they get a bit closer" or just make vague plans without setting anything in stone?

I don't think asking for a moratorium is out of line, but I can see how others (my SO included) would interpret it that way. It depends what you say and how you say it.

Another option - bring this topic up in therapy.

On preview, what Miko said.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2009

And what said.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 10:14 AM on August 24, 2009

I'd say so. I thought you were going to say he was talking about buying a retirement property or something. Your examples sound like events you could very easily drop out of.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:15 AM on August 24, 2009

Clarification: My spouse is not bringing up these events during the actual therapy session. The events are being brought up outside of therapy. When I said "while in therapy" I meant , "since we are in therapy..."
posted by teg4rvn at 10:21 AM on August 24, 2009

Sounds like you're both putting a whole lot of weight on these events, and using this issue to avoid talking about your expectations from your marriage.

If she's talking about really distant events that often, she probably just wants reassurance that you'll be around to attend them.

If you're so uncomfortable talking about these events, you're rejecting the idea that you'll definitely be around to attend.

You should tell her, explicitly and in therapy (so you have a mediator) about how you're feeling. This will probably progress to a discussion about the amount of faith you both have in the lasting power of your marriage. Not fun, but, I mean, this is why couples therapy exists.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:21 AM on August 24, 2009 [6 favorites]

Another vote for bringing this up in therapy. I think planning that far in advance is an indication that your spouse feels that you'll be together then--to shut that down might be more damage to your relationship. Your therapist will help you voice the issues with this that you're having in a constructive and mediated way.
posted by Kimberly at 10:31 AM on August 24, 2009

This has got to be typical of the communication issues that the therapy needs to address, namely that she has no idea that her planning is affecting you this way and that you have no way of telling her this without making it a big thing.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:37 AM on August 24, 2009

Talk it out in therapy. You cannot demand that she not mention these things, its a free country--but you can tell him how it makes you feel. However, since you are deciding to work on these things instead of give up, make sure that what you say does not come across like a threat.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:45 AM on August 24, 2009

I second (and think you should give great thought to) those who say she is probably doing this because she is searching for some sign or confirmation that you are going to be around next year, that you still see a future as spouses. It's almost like she's testing the waters. I don't think she is necessarily doing it on purpose, but it might be a form of determining whether you have already decided you don't want to stay in the marriage. IF you have made that decision then what is the point of therapy, from her perspective? Whether it's right or it's wrong, logical or not, understanding the motivation for the behavior can be useful in dealing with it.

If you acknowledge her anxiety/fear about the future while asking her to stop doing it, you might be more likely to meet success. For example, if you can honestly say that you have not yet made a decision and if you can reinforce your commitment to making every effort to work through the problems and improve the relationship, it may be easier (thus greater likelihood of success) for her to stop trying to plan for events that far in the future. IF the questions are a symptom of fear, and if you can (while remaining honest) to some degree alleviate the fear, then reaching that understanding is therapeutic in and of itself, IMO. It is a more positive communication style, and requires you to understand her needs (fear that you've already checked out) and her to understand your needs (avoiding the anxiety caused by her constantly ducking the real questions to plan for long-term future events). If the needs are at least understood and a good-faith effort to address them is made, this particular problem (the planning) might be more likely to go away.

(Of course we don't know your spouse, and might be completely off-base. The hypothesis of why she is doing it is just one, and may not be correct. But certainly SOMETHING is causing her to do it, and a little investigation/asking/listening/understanding could go a long way toward resolving the issue for both of you.)

Short answer: YES, you can ask her to simply stop doing it, but you are more likely to succeed if you attempt to understand and acknowledge WHY she is doing it and address the WHY.
posted by bunnycup at 10:52 AM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Would it be unreasonable to ask my spouse not to discuss and make distant future plans while we are in couples therapy?

I don't think it's unreasonable, but I also think it would be pretty reasonable for your spouse to assume, based on that, you didn't really know if you wanted to stay married.

So if that's the meta-message you want to send, that's okay, but if it's not, I'd probably just go along with some long term planning. It's not like you have to sign a contract for any of it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:00 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Were you the one who suggested/initiated therapy? Did you have to nudge her into it? Are you more into the therapy than she is?

This might be her way of gauging whether or not you're committed enough for her to quit therapy without any I would watch for that and not give her any ideas about you staying around even if she quits working on your issues.
posted by kathrineg at 11:08 AM on August 24, 2009

I have a feeling that talking about and planning for these distance events is making your spouse feel more secure in your relationship because he/she has markers to look for.

If this bothers you, I'd suggest talking about it in therapy with the therapist as a mediator. If you bring this up, I could easily see your spouse thinking that you don't see staying with him/her for the long term.

I don't see the harm in playing along with this and planning for the future, unless you don't see your marriage lasting that much longer. And that's a completely separate issue.
posted by kylej at 11:13 AM on August 24, 2009

if i was in couples counseling, and my partner asked me this, i would most likely stop counseling and dissolve the marriage. it wouldn't make any difference whether it was brought up in therapy or not. i would take this as 'i don't want to make plans with you.'
posted by lester at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2009

Lester: I am not overly fond of cuples therapy and feel it usually is simply a way of putting off the inevitable, but I imagine that deciding you don't like what you hear from a spouse ends the relationship is hardly what is being attempted by "therapy." You can decide without therapy that what you hear is cause enough for divorce. Why then bother with therapy?
posted by Postroad at 11:49 AM on August 24, 2009

Disclaimer: I've never sat in couples therapy.
Requisite: I assume/nth these kinds of concerns are what the therapist is there to help with.

But, I can also assume that if neither of you are attending begrudgingly you both want the relationship to succeed. This may be helpful optimism to point out in conjunction with your anxieties about future planning.

To further expand the realm of possibility, success is measured in a myriad of ways. Ie, outcome may be something more complex than traditional marriage or traditional divorce--for example, being committed but not attending Bar Mitzvahs (imagine!). If this sounds realistic to you, it is perfectly reasonable to put off future-discussion.

If this doesn't sound like a life you might lead than yes, I'm picking up on some fatalism. You should definitely figure out whether you are in therapy in order to end your marriage "correctly" talking to YOUR therapist, in private.
posted by JaiMahodara at 11:58 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

By causally talking about events in the future, your spouse seems to be taking the view of "I'm assuming we'll be together in the future until proven otherwise," whereas your discomfort with the situation seems to indicate that your view is "I'm assuming we won't be together in the future until proven otherwise."

Those are two very different views to bring to the table in couples therapy.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:17 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

could certainly be fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding...

maybe something like... "can we focus on therapy and making things better right now? I simply cannot deal with plans for future events while we're working things out. There will be plenty of time and emotional space for planning once we work out our differences."

This way you re-focus things closer to the "now" and keep away from the possible perceived threat of "breaking up."

Just a thought.

Bringing up in therapy also good... but remember that choosing battles to bring to therapy helps cut down on time spent on ancillary issues and preserves time for the most important ones.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 12:26 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Plans can be cancelled.

I think whimsicalnymph makes a really good point about the assumptions you and your wife are making, and I think the suggestions above to discuss this during a therapy session are worth considering. However, coming out and saying--outside of the therapist's office--"I don't want to make plans with you," will very likely sound like a statement of intentions (i.e., "I don't think we'll still be married by the time Jim's wedding rolls around") rather than a statement of your feelings ("It makes me feel nervous about the work we're doing in therapy when you talk about long-term plans instead of short-term things we're working on").

So, I don't think the question is how reasonable the request might be, but rather how it could be misunderstood and create drama. I think a more reasonable thing to do would be to bring up your feelings in therapy without using the word moratorium, and at the same time to keep in mind that none of these plans can't be changed or cancelled if, six months or a year or two years from now, you and your wife decide to separate.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:38 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whether or not this is unreasonable really depends on who you and your wife are. For me, I know that a feeling of future security is necessary for a long term relationship; because I'm a chronic over-planner, it wouldn't be that unusual for me to talk about things happening a year from now. If my partner were to tell me that I couldn't plan, I would definitely interpret that to be his way of telling me he was checking out of the relationship, because planning is important to my own feelings of security.

Your wife may or may not feel the same way. I hope you can talk to her about your feelings about this, preferably in therapy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:44 PM on August 24, 2009


While I don't have an exact time limit for "things needing to be better on a regular basis," I want to indicate to my spouse that we just can't be living in marital purgatory forever. Making these distant plans says to me, "The problems you have with our relationship requires no urgent attention. Moreover, if things aren't better by Jim's wedding...big-woop!, we'll just continue to pretend to be the happy couple to the rest of the world as we are doing right now."

I guess my byline is: "You've got a year. Take this seriously. Please."
posted by teg4rvn at 1:14 PM on August 24, 2009

Yeah - totally a conversation to have with your therapist. You have a timeline in your mind and need to communicate that to your spouse.
posted by Miko at 1:16 PM on August 24, 2009

Making these distant plans says to me, "The problems you have with our relationship requires no urgent attention. Moreover, if things aren't better by Jim's wedding...big-woop!, we'll just continue to pretend to be the happy couple to the rest of the world as we are doing right now."

Are you sure that's what your wife is hoping to communicate to you, though? While I understand why you would interpret her comments that way, an equally valid interpretation might be that she feels your relationship will be stable and happy in a year (perhaps thanks to your couples therapy), and therefore has no qualms about planning for the future.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:18 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is your spouse the kind who gets itchy and nervous about unresolved details and future deadlines? I know I often want to cement details (like event dates, hotel reservations) far in advance just for the sake of not having to worry about them later and not being haunted by incomplete tasks.

I know I'm also a compartmentalizer, and it's easy for me to switch from "I'm freaking out about this thing in the present AAAAH" to "Oh, why of course I'll attend that convention next January, put my name down" and then back to "AAAAH FREAKING OUT HERE AND NOW". Could your spouse be the same way? I'm just thinking of ways that your spouse might really be taking the current therapy work seriously and yet also be making long-term plans without it reflecting on the relationship's stability.
posted by cadge at 1:29 PM on August 24, 2009

So your worry is not the plans, it's that she's not taking therapy seriously--is that what I'm hearing?

It seems that you feel like she thinks she can distract you or wear you down until you don't try to change things anymore.

That might be the real issue.
posted by kathrineg at 1:41 PM on August 24, 2009

One more thing--do you think she's just going through therapy to humor you so that you don't leave her, or do you think she really wants to work to make your marriage better for you? I think that you'll need to feel that commitment from her before you can commit to keeping the marriage going. You need to know that your marriage will get better before you agree to stay in it for the foreseeable future and you don't want to be tricked or pressured into maintaining the status quo.
posted by kathrineg at 1:44 PM on August 24, 2009

Follow up:

@kathrineg: The problem with these distant plans is that it'll require the saving of money that we currently don't have (for airline tickets, etc..), so in effect it has a more immediate effect on our finances despite the event being ~1 year away...I probably should have mentioned that. If the wedding were local, I probably would not have as much anxiety about it and would have no problem just going with the flow.
posted by teg4rvn at 1:54 PM on August 24, 2009

Hmm. That's tough. What do you need from this situation?

Do you need her to not talk about it? Or is it that she's telling you about these plans, instead of genuinely discussing it with you, getting your perspective, and taking your feelings into account?

I think that your concerns are perfectly valid, and this will be a good thing to discuss with your couples therapist.
posted by kathrineg at 2:05 PM on August 24, 2009

The problem with these distant plans is that it'll require the saving of money that we currently don't have (for airline tickets, etc..), so in effect it has a more immediate effect on our finances despite the event being ~1 year away

This is very important--it explains why she's talking about these events now, because if she wants to attend, she has to discuss them now, begin saving, et cetera.

I suspect that your frustration with the relationship is causing you to cast a negative light on discussions which might just be practical. Again, bringing this up with your therapist can help you gain perspective on these conversations--much more informed perspective than metafilter can provide, since your therapist knows you and your wife--and figure out a way of resolving it with her that doesn't completely dismiss her concerns, particularly if they're concrete, practical concerns.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:12 PM on August 24, 2009

You run the risk of really breaking your spouse's heart by doing so.

If your problem is with putting aside the money, either you're going to need money to attend a wedding together or you're going to need money for a divorce. Might as well start saving either way.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:17 PM on August 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

I think it's telling that your post has required 3 followups to clarify statements or correct mistaken assumptions. How do I say this nicely... I am wondering if your communication skills at home are similarly vague or lacking in detail. I do not think it unreasonable to state that your spouse most likely has mistaken assumptions about your relationship and its future, not to mention your finances. You need to be very, very direct and plainspoken, much more so than you have been here, to a forum of complete strangers.
posted by desjardins at 3:23 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

As someone who's been through a few failed long-term live-in relationships, I wonder if maybe a source of the problem has something to do with how you're describing counseling. Are you telling her that you think things are going okay? When I think "okay", I think, "we're probably going to make it," therefore things now do need attention but I can keep planning for a shared future.

At the point where I hit "I don't want to talk about a year from now because I don't know if I'll be here a year from now," things were very, very bad. And did need not just attention, but urgent attention, before even considering future stuff. I think Jacqueline is right that you need to be saving all the money you can either way, but money aside, if a year from now seems like "the distant future" to you and "when we're going to that wedding" to her, you need to get onto the same page.

"Stop asking about future events" isn't going to really help. "I need you to understand that right now I feel very unsure about our relationship and I want to pour all my resources into fixing it in there here and now if it's fixable, but I can't guarantee you I'll be here then," is likely to be painful, but necessary.
posted by larkspur at 4:02 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

"I don't want to plan that far ahead" will sound like "...because we might not be together by then."

If that isn't what you mean to say, I'd say suck it up and go along with the plans even if it is inconvenient. The amount of anxiety and hurt and finality inherent in the idea of "let's not plan ahead" probably isn't worth it. If you ever do feel like that, a better way to phrase it is probably just "let's split up". It's hard to go back when you've said "let's not plan ahead"- it sounds pretty final- so as long as you want to work to maintain the relationship, I'd avoid saying that.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:04 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

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