Chapter 6

Christian Counseling

Rodney was surprisingly amenable to couple’s counseling once the whole Lucy thing was exposed. At first, I thought he genuinely wanted to fix things, but what he really wanted was to control the narrative. 

But I suppose if I’m being honest, image meant a little bit more to 26-year-old Emily than it does to 39-year-old Emily. The difference was that Rodney was afraid the world would know he had been rejected if we divorced, and I was afraid everyone would think I was easy to dupe.

“How did she not know that guy had issues?”

***

Rodney and I had been attending a non-denominational church in a posh north suburb of Indianapolis. It was a 25-minute drive from home, but Rodney liked Fellowship Point because it was attended by affluent, white socialites who drove luxury imports and shopped at Saks. He thought he looked rich—or at least well on his way to rich—by association. I liked Fellowship Point because the sermons were cerebral, not hermetical, and the piano was always in tune. 

Lucky for us, Fellowship Point also employed an associate pastor whose job it was to guide troubled couples like Rodney and me toward the ideal Christian union. For free.

Pastor Tim was in his mid-forties. He had thick wavy brown hair, brown eyes, and designer eyeglass frames. The man was exactly what non-therapists expected therapists to look like. We met him at the church on a weekday, so he skipped the tie, opting for a Brooks Brothers shirt and dark slacks. He probably wasn’t the most qualified marriage mentor in central Indiana, but he did have a master’s in counseling psychology. Maybe, I thought, if he couldn’t help me find happily married again (and I suspected he probably couldn’t) he could introduce me to some new way of thinking that made staying married to a lying, cheating, emotionally manipulative psycho tolerable.

“So, what brings you to see me today?” Pastor Tim asked from behind a sprawling cherry desk. A wall-to-wall bookcase with leather-bound books and framed diplomas served as his backdrop. A picture of his family—the same photo from the church directory—sat on the corner of his desk, framed in gold. He held a hand out, gesturing for us to take a seat across from him. The richly upholstered couch coordinated perfectly with the deep greens and burgundies of the carpet and window coverings.

I was already crying as I sank into the sofa, blotting the corners of my eyes with a tissue I’d snagged from the end table beside me. As he closed the door behind him and took his spot next to me, I gave Rodney a look that said, “You’re why we’re here. Start talking.”

“I had a relationship with another woman,” Rodney said, no hint of shame in his voice at all. It baffled me how he could go months at a time without uttering a single truth. It also baffled me that when he was faced with the humiliating truth of, say, telling his pastor he’d cheated on his wife, he could deliver the lines as dispassionately as if he were describing the bristles on a toothbrush.

My stomach churned like it did every time a new person was brought into the loop, but I felt particularly exposed watching a stranger react, ladling on another scoop of pity. Already gasping my way though heavy sobs, I managed to explain to Pastor Tim that Rodney still had class with Lucy once a week until at least the end of the semester, and possibly until he finished his degree. “The program is small. Most students are on the same academic track until graduation.” Making sure not to gloss over Rodney’s misdeeds, I blurted, “I don’t trust him at all. We’re not just here about Lucy. Rodney lies about everything.”

I felt like a tattletale.

Pastor Tim thought I was using hyperbole to make Rodney look bad and offered to reframe my statement in a way that seemed more reasonable. “When trust is broken, we often—”

“No,” I said flatly, my anger sobering me up some. “You don’t understand. Rodney is a compulsive liar AND he does some cheating in his spare time. He didn’t recently take up lying to avoid the consequences of fu… uh, having a relationship with Lucy. He lies because he’s a liar.”

Pastor Tim’s eyebrows went up, so I knew that he was having an inkling. At least someone was finally having an inkling. It was maddening that people never believed me.

The leather executive chair groaned as Pastor Tim turned to face me more directly. His eyes softened with empathy. “I believe I can help you both find a path toward reconciliation, but this is going to be slightly more complicated than rebuilding after an affair. That’s complicated enough.” He looked at Rodney and said, “I’d like to recommend a psychiatrist, someone to help you analyze this from a more clinical perspective.” 

I gave Rodney an I-told-you-so look.

I wouldn’t say I felt hopeful at the end of the first session, but I did feel a little less hopeless. The three of us spent the rest of the hour devising a plan and scheduling weekly appointments. As I added the appointments to my calendar, I thought about how Rodney was going to have to explain the time off he needed to his boss. No doubt he’d lie. He’d probably tell his boss I was having a mental breakdown and needed him to be there. 

Before we left, Pastor Tim handed Rodney the card of a psychiatrist, also a member of the church.

Rodney didn’t call the psychiatrist right away, so I threatened to walk if he didn’t schedule an appointment. Then trying to dangle a carrot I added, “If we work hard at it, I don’t see why we can’t survive this.” He agreed, and I even managed to go the next four days without guzzling Pepto Bismol. So great was the relief of pretending I wasn’t alone in trying to fix this thing. Maybe I’d even start sleeping again at night instead of reliving the day’s arguments with Rodney.

That’s the great thing about having a shit marriage in the age of texting. You can snipe at each other all damn day whether tucked away in your cubicle, hiding out in the back of a poorly lit lecture hall, or parked on I-465 waiting for emergency crews to clean crumpled steel and glass off the freeway. Then you go to bed at night and think about what you should have texted that asshole instead.

***

But back to the shrink thing. After his second session with Dr. Born, Rodney waltzed in the front door whistling. I’d been home from my part-time job at the magazine for about an hour and was making dinner. Taubensee was napping on the kitchen floor, curled into a tight circle at my feet.

“I’m done!” Rodney chirped. His cheery disposition was a complete sham. I knew it instantly and my body reacted to the lie by trembling angrily. My shaking was imperceptible to the naked eye, though I physically pulsed with the negative energy Rodney brought into the house. Simmering rage wasn’t a metaphor, it was a literal, physical reaction. And I learned that if I let it bubble long enough, I could qualify for a clinical trial to test a new IBS medication.

Rodney dropped his messenger bag on the dining room table and loosened his tie. Then he flipped through the mail.

“You’re done with what?” I asked. I couldn’t hide my disbelief, but I did my best to keep my voice even and calm—for my sake, not his. I tapped a wooden spoon on the side of the pot and dropped it in the spoon rest, then pivoted to face Rodney.

“I’m done with Dr. Born, with therapy. We had a great session today. I really learned a lot. He said that I don’t feel any emotions but anger, probably because Dad beat me. But I’m definitely not a sociopath and don’t need to be in therapy. So I’m done.”

“Really?” I was dubious, and more than a little insulted. 

Without missing a beat, Rodney pulled a receipt from his shirt pocket. He was right to assume I didn’t believe him, but a total idiot if he genuinely thought his attending the session was the part of his story I questioned.

I turned back to the pasta cooking on the stove, choosing not to argue. I could have poked a million holes in the tale he’d obviously contrived on his drive home, but what would be the point? I’d had a long day at work, and no matter what anyone else says, avoidance is a legitimate form of self-care.

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