Flash: Marriage Therapy Session 9 (Long Version)

Greta greeted her patients. She normally avoided after hour appointments, but the holiday season tended to put all her high-powered clients on a compressed schedule while exploding the relationship issues. Wyatt and Liza Donnelly were the third couple she had shown to her office tonight, though the only one scheduled.

The Donnellys, now on their ninth session, beelined for the conversational grouping. Greta smiled with pride as the couple sat together on the sofa. The Donnellys had had serious issues to work through, though ones any professional marriage counselor could have helped them with. The sessions were finally moving into her area of expertise, as the several inch spacing between the couple indicated where work was still needed.

She sat in the chair furthest from the door. For her, it was the most comfortable chair of the grouping. The other chair was made for someone with longer legs; men tended to fit in it well. One of the tricks she played on her clients was the placement of the two chairs. The dominant rich males like to command the room and went for the leather and brass chair that allowed them to see everything including the entryway into the room. The women, though also usually very controlling, were shorter in height and so a few steps behind the men. They went to the second position of power in the grouping, in the antique French chair with floral upholstery. So both sides of the marriage power struggle were in chairs uncomfortable to their heights, making them more likely to squirm when made emotionally uncomfortable, and, thereby, giving her better signals to work her psychology magic with.

The sofa, on the other hand, was comfortable to everyone but the extremely small, but it was very soft. If more than one person sat on it, they tended to sink together. A couple needed to actively struggle to keep separate. Sessions were tiring, physically and emotionally, so couples ended up supplying snuggling support to each other without even realizing her sly behavioral training tactics.

The Donnellys wanted a late appointment because of the dinner party they just came from. Wyatt was in his typical overpriced, tailor-fitted suit; his parents came from money and he made even more running a privately owned business, and being on the boards of several publicly owned ones.

Greta paid more attention to Liza’s outfit. The woman had actually found the female version of a professor tweed outfit, down to the leather patched elbows on the dining jacket. It was the ugliest formal-length skirt outfit Greta had ever seen. The woman wore her nerdom as a badge. Too much education combined with too much intelligence. Greta understood the need to constantly shove unconscious reminders of professional skill at people, she didn’t complete her doctorate and her licensing without needing to ram her abilities down several people’s throats who should know better. But Liza didn’t know how to stop. Maybe because she chose a male-dominated industry; while computers were becoming less gender defined, computer security was still ruled by retired military with the related old-boy network of the armed forces.

She stared out them for three minutes, watching the clock had tucked behind a fern click away the seconds. Unlike most couples, neither of the Donnellys had a problem with the quiet. Wyatt knew how to use silence as a weapon during contract negotiations, and Liza … well Liza was happy for time to get lost in her own thoughts now the counseling had extracted the pain buried in her mind. Greta knew the lack of conversation affected Wyatt, and he tended to be the person which needed to be reduced in power.

One of the reasons she changed the afghan covering the coach was to provide something to talk about. Greta hadn’t expected them to comment on the bright Native American design based on previous sessions, but the afghan was one of her favorites.

“Okay, I just wanted you to know I believe we have been making real progress.” Greta smiled with assurance. “Today’s session, I thought we would work on removing barriers.”

“Has Liza complained about barriers?” Wyatt glanced at his wife, the movement of his head changing the balance on the sofa just enough to start tilting him towards Liza. He quickly corrected to the rigid posture.

Along with nine sessions as a couple, Greta had been seeing them separate between the couple sessions.

“No, Wyatt,” Greta corrected, “you have been complaining about barriers.”

“I have done no such thing.” Greta’s smile widened, and Wyatt hastily went on to add, realizing how often the expert he was paying for had proven him wrong on his motivations. “Have I?”

“You tell me after we do an exercise to break the ice.”

The couple relaxed infinitesimally. The clinical psychologist often started sessions with an exercise. Choose the color crayon to describe your mood to your spouse was last session’s exercise. The spouse then had to interpret why the person chose the color. Greta mirrored the startup activity by ending the sessions assigning homework; for the last two weeks, the couple had to make their beds together. Because of their different schedules, the Donnellys slept in separate rooms so they wouldn’t disturb their desperately needed sleep. But every afternoon for the last week, instead of the maid making their beds, they stripped the sheets and made the beds together. The action gave them time for small talk.

Greta knew the couple was relaxing because they started tilting together. The sofa was one of the best tools in her marriage counseling arsenal. Wyatt took a breath longer to correct his posture, Liza didn’t correct until Wyatt’s repositioning nearly toppled her into him.

“Wyatt, please stand.”

Wyatt stood to one side of the sofa.

“Now I want you to remove all your clothing except your underwear.”

Wyatt grew flustered. “What, why?”

“We are removing barriers, remember. Clothing is ultimately a barrier.” Greta paused a moment, giving the couple time to process the explanation. “Pretend I am not in the room, and remove your clothing for your wife. You want your marriage to work, do this to represent removing a barrier, one at a time.”

Wyatt turned so he could no longer see the doctor. Facing his wife, staring at her face, he slowly removed the cufflinks and tossed them on the coffee table. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his vest and black tuxedo shirt.

Greta arranged her face into clinical detachment as the man slowed his motions. Liza’s eyes never darted to where Greta sat, instead Liza’s pupils darkened and her face flushed. Her tongue darted out to moisten her lips when Wyatt unzipped his trousers.

Most people would not admit it, but everyone had a little exhibitionist in them. They liked to look good and be successful and have other people see them look good and be successful, whether working, swimming, or having sex. Having Greta in the room turned the Donnellys on, changed the dynamics of their damaged relationship. They were doing something different and remembering the initial attraction because someone else in the room made them see things differently.

Once Wyatt was completely stripped, Greta asked, “Liza, what do you see?”

“What? Oh, I see Wyatt.”

“What else?” Greta prodded.

“He’s naked?” The intellectual ended the statement as a question, unsure of what the counselor was looking for.

“Anything else?”

“He’s got a hard-on.”

“Anything else?”

“I don’t know. What are you looking for?” Exasperation entered Liza’s voice. “He’s got great abs?”

“Do you see his money?” Greta asked.

“No, how would you see that?”

“How about his business?”

“Goodness no.”

“So all you see is your husband. All you see is a man.”

“Yes,” Liza nodded. “With a hard-on.” She added since she like accuracy.

“So all you see is a sexual creature you are attracted to.”

Liza eyes grew round as the meaning sunk in. Greta could always count on Liza getting it.

“Wyatt, please sit.” Greta instructed. “Liza, if you would now remove your barriers. Please leave on your panties. You may remove or retain your brassiere, whatever will make you the most comfortable.”

The married couple traded places. Liza’s hideous, shapeless clothing joined her husband’s on the table to reveal a curvy mature womanly body. The undressing was not as dramatic as her husband’s, but Liza, typical of many engineering types, had little body modesty. Her bra was tossed aside without hesitation.

“Wyatt, what do you see?”

Wyatt, understanding the game, if not the reason behind it, answered easily, “My sexy, beautiful, mostly naked wife.”

“Do you see her two master degrees?”

He blinked at the strange question. “No, I think she has them on the wall at work.”

“How about her IQ, is it visible?”

“Well, her eyes are intelligent.” Wyatt tried to see where this was going.

“Really?” Greta tilted her head, trying to keep her professional mask in place. The couple was much more naturally attractive than the average rich people she worked with. “Liza, could you sit on his lap and let him get a good look into your eyes.”

“Oh,” she wiggled a little after sitting. Wyatt groaned. “That is some blood redistribution you got going there, squire.”

“Well, I can’t take credit for it, ma’am.”

“Not to interrupt,” Greta interrupted, “but we are in the middle of an exercise. What do you see in your wife’s eyes Wyatt?”

After studying her eyes, he responded, “Desire.”

“So, right now you can only see each other as a man and a woman. … Please respond yes or no.”

“Yes.” They replied in unison.

“Good.” Greta scribbled a line on her pad. She wondered if Liza caught on to the fact she actually took no notes during the meetings, only during her review of the tapes, and used the scribbles as transition pauses. “I believe you mentioned the maid leaves around five and the cook leaves at seven?”

“The cook leaves at 6:49 to catch the bus.” Liza corrected.

“Okay. Are your Tuesday and Thursday nights free for the next two weeks?” Sexual tension was leaving the couple during the discussion. “Wyatt, could you please keep both hands on your wife? If you need additional support, please lean back. I am told the sofa is very comfortable. The afghan will keep you from sticking.”

Liza looked startled a second, her eyes going to the patterned woven cloth, then to the marriage counselor with a question. Greta nodded affirmation to Liza’s induction about some of the reasons she kept the sofa covered with an easily removable and cleanable cloth. Her primary specialty was sex therapy after all. She did have three diagnostic rooms complete with beds, but those were usually reserved for couples with physical issues needing analyzing and therapeutic training to function in an active sexual relationship.

Wyatt, not catching the byplay between the philosophically trained thinkers, answered Greta’s question after pulling his wife closer and leaning back on the sofa. “I’ve got business parties Thursday for the next two weeks, but my Wednesdays are free. My mentoree is on vacation for the holidays.”

“Liza, are you also free Tuesday and Wednesday evenings?”

Snuggling deeper into her husband’s embrace, the wife answered. “I’ve got a phone conferences every day this week at 2:30 am with India, early afternoon their time. An installation team. And it may extend into next week – it’s been that kind of project. But other than that, yes.”

“Okay, your homework assignment is to ‘remove barriers’ at home those two nights after the cook leaves.” Greta wrote the homework assignment down in her pretend notes, giving time for the assignment to sink in. Just as Wyatt opened his mouth, Greta knew he would be the first to raise objections, she continued, “I want you to eat your dinner together, sitting close enough you can touch each other. I want the cell phones off, in another room –”

Wyatt tried to interrupt, but Greta just raised her voice and continued right over his interruption, “– that part is not negotiable – tell your people you will be off-line for three hours those nights. It’s your marriage we are talking about.” Wyatt sunk a little deeper into the coach, pulling his wife closer, and nodded acceptance. “You don’t have to have sex, but I want you to hold each other like you are now. I want you to engage in small talk – no business talk, no work talk – you can do that other nights – but small talk like a man and woman would do. Flirt. For those three hours, you – Wyatt are not running international corporations and whether you have a dollar or million dollars in your bank account does not matter, and you – Liza – your degrees don’t matter and whether a government database gets hacked or not is not your problem.”

The stunned couple gawked at their sweet and easy marriage counselor. She had handled them with kid gloves, helping them resolve the trauma which had happened early in their marriage, for the last several months. Her strict orders were beyond anything they had experienced before.

Greta was now fixing something less emotional and more primeval. She was all for stunning the forebrain when she needed to get through to the Lizard. “Wyatt for those three hours, you will be with the most beautiful, intelligent woman you know and you will be trying to get her to agree to come home so you can fuck her senseless. Liza for those three hours, you will be with the most desirable and competent man you know and trying to convince him to come home with you so you can fuck him senseless.”

Greta deliberately stood and walked to where the obvious clock was in her office, the one not visible from the conversation area. She reported, walking over to her desk, “Five minutes left in the session that should give you just enough time to get dressed.” She unlocked the bottom drawer and pulled out the Donnelly file and started making the real notes.

She paid no attention as the couple whispered and dressed. The door quietly closed behind them as they left. Waiting five additional minutes, Greta stripped off the afghan and went out to the hallway to toss the cloth into the laundry closet. After that she went through the building, locking doors and turning off lights before returning to her office with the blue afghan. The ocean and seagulls usually drew lots of compliments, but she had never liked it.

Satisfied she was alone, Greta opened up the wall unit behind her and started going through the evening’s tapes so she could write notes while everything was fresh.

Greta realized about two she was staring at the frozen image of Mr. Donnelly in mid-strip. The man was ripped in the way only someone who could afford a personal trainer could be.

She clicked off the screen, berating herself internally. She really needed to find a man of her own.

But she did not want to go through another disaster of a marriage. Who would think marrying your high school sweetheart could go so wrong?

Doctor, heal thyself, she thought … not for the first time.

She turned off the lights of her office and went out to her car, pleased to be leaving at a time to make it worthwhile to go home instead of utilizing one of the bedrooms in her office. She really should breakdown and convert one of the bedrooms to her living space. Paying rent for an apartment she was at for maybe twenty hours a week, and most of those sleeping, was a waste.

(Words 2610; originally written on 9/4/2013 and inspired by a picture from Breathless press; first published 9/30/2018)