'My Husband And I Had Therapy on TV'

I met my husband on a threadbare couch at in Queens, New York as he animatedly pontificated to a room full of people. I don't even remember what he was talking about, but I was captivated. He was passionate, highly articulate and attractively confident. It was love at first speech.

The words continued to flow through courtship, marriage and kids, fueling an intense and loving relationship. But, fast forward 11 years, and I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs for Michael to just stop talking. I was no longer interested in listening to his philosophical musings.

I was overwhelmed, overwrought and overscheduled. Conversations with my husband had devolved into such banalities as, "Did you remember to pick up milk?" or "I have a load of laundry to do and a 12 hour shift tomorrow; why are you talking to me about platonic archetypes?!" I wanted to home school my children, and I had a great idea for a pharmacy communications app, but my life was consumed by my day job; picking up toys; and the few remaining moments left for precious time with my children, Levi and Elizabeth. I can handle the minutiae of the mundane, but the life I wanted was drifting hopelessly, unreachably, away from me.

Increasingly aggravated, I targeted my husband with my frustrations, and he responded in turn by withdrawing and retreating into his own space. Needless to say, all that dissatisfaction did not translate into marital bliss.

Despite this, when my husband walked into our bedroom one day in 2019 talking about a Facebook advert he had seen for couples counseling, my answer was a resounding: "No." We had actually tried couples counseling once before, but it cost too much and yielded too little.

"It's free," he said. "And, I can guarantee that this therapist is exceptional."

"How could you possibly know how good the therapist is?" I asked.

"Well, there's a catch. There's a TV show...."

"TV, as in televised, as in our therapy will have an audience?"

"Well, yeah. Basically."

That didn't help to change my mind at all. Why would anybody air their private issues on a nationally televised reality TV show? Michael is an attorney, so he continued to press his case. He'd watched the first season of the show, Couples Therapy, and it seemed to him that it was documenting genuine couples counseling. He told me it wasn't a "dating show meets couples counseling" situation. Michael felt the show was very sensitive to each couple's privacy and dignity. He suggested I watch a couple of episodes.

Therapy, couples, TV
Michal Zoldan and her husband Michael agreed to have couples therapy on TV. Courtesy of SHOWTIME

So, I did. And I was both surprised and pleased. It appeared respectful and the couples seemed to be making progress. The more I watched, the more our participation seemed like a viable idea. I decided to give it a go.

During our sessions with our psychotherapist, Dr. Orna Guralnik, I didn't think much about the cameras that were hidden behind the walls. On some level, I was aware that they were there and that everything I said was being recorded, from who knows how many angles, but in a very real way, those cameras didn't matter. I didn't feel like I was performing, I was working through my relationship with the guidance of a truly exceptional therapist. It really was just the three of us in that room talking. Well, with the addition of Orna's gorgeous dog, Nico.

Michael and I talked about how as a couple who are both professionals, our initial presumption was that we would both work full time, but the societal notion of a do-it-all career mom juggling work, kids and a husband increasingly felt suffocating to me. We talked about our conflicting ideas and expectations about who should be working, how much and to what end. We discussed how my resentment made my husband feel neglected and unsupported. He expected me to spend more down time with him and be more attentive and accepting. We both had a lot of work to do in understanding each other. Were my expectations unrealistic? Were his?

During a particularly explosive session, we were at each other's throats over my hopes to have another baby. Between my horrifically busy schedule and the fact that Michael wasn't certain we would have the extra finances available, it seemed to me like an impossibility. I broke down in tears and Michael was speechless.

Orna was able to help us and our relationship move beyond this draining stalemate to a place where we could reconcile and reconnect. She cleared away the emotional debris by asking questions and providing insights that helped us develop a better understanding of each other. As the fog of resentment and miscommunication cleared, we were able to acknowledge each other's worth and validity.

Three sessions into the planned 20, the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic, so the process changed. What I had originally agreed to became an endless series of COVID tests, masks, compromises, work-arounds and everything else the world had come to accept as our new normal.

But, I am happy to report we got through it all.

And now, edited recordings of me, my husband and our therapist are airing on TV. It is, to say the least, weird. I don't spend much energy worrying about people's judgments, but it is surreal to be so exposed to the world. I had already known that society's expectations didn't work for me, but through therapy, I found both the words to express and the strength to set my own guidelines.

Therapy, couples, TV
Dr. Michelle (Michal) Zoldan with her husband, Michael and their third child, Elia. Dr. Michelle Michal Zoldan

Just a couple generations ago, marriage had rigid roles and standards. My Yeminite grandmother ran the family farm, dedicating every spare moment to her children, and made no complaints. But modern marriage is adaptive; it is a balancing act and it takes work. As my own version of the "modern American housewife," I entered marriage seeking both the freedom of a career and choice of higher education while still yearning to enjoy the traditional duties of a wife and mother. Orna pushed us to define the parameters of our union, both for ourselves and for each other. Together, we have not only reconciled the past, but we have moved forward into a new future.

Two months ago, we welcomed our third child into the world. A beautiful baby boy named Elia. I no longer work 12-hour days. I home school my 7-year-old and spend a lot more time being a mom. As far as work, I'm living my entrepreneurial dream and have control of my own schedule. We're also spending a lot more time together and enjoying it. So, I'd like to thank Orna. I had my doubts, but watching the series, I was relieved to see our therapy wasn't manipulated or sensationalized. More importantly, I saw just how effective therapy can be.

Dr. Michelle (Michal) Zoldan is a Doctor of Pharmacy and Chief Pharmacy officer for YonaRX, a medical communications startup. Find her on instagram @michalzoldan. Couples Therapy currently is airing on Showtime on Sundays, at 10 PM ET/PT and available for on-demand streaming.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

CORRECTION 09:00 04/05/21: This article was amended to reflect the accurate date that Michal's husband first mentioned Couples Therapy.