Why, when you mention to someone that you and your partner are in counseling, do you sometimes get that thousand-yard stare accompanied by an awkward head tilt? I feel like in this day and age, the idea of therapy shouldn’t be so alarming. In fact, isn’t therapy sort of a privilege? The way I see it, couples therapy is there to protect one of my most valuable investments: my marriage.
My husband and I have been together for 13 years and married for eight. We broke up (twice) early in our relationship and got back together (twice). Over time we added two kids into the mix. We bought a house. I started my own business as a professional photographer and blogger, and my husband has worked tirelessly to advance his own career. Life has been in session, to say the least. Granted, these are all blessings, but, like all families, we became very busy. Things like planned date nights and together-time were replaced with soccer practices, heated budget conversations and drive-by sightings of one another during our jam-packed weeks. Marital maintenance started falling by the wayside, and when we finally realized it, there was so much to sort that we both agreed we needed some professional help to wade through it. Marital counseling has been a saving grace for us, and here is why:
1) We can hear each other.
I can repeatedly ask my husband to help me fold the laundry over and over (I believe this is called ‘nagging’), and it goes in one ear and out the other when we’re in the comfort and privacy of our own home. But sit us down with a neutral third party, and boom, he suddenly hears my request as if for the first time. In all fairness, the same can be said for me. It’s almost as if the therapist acts as a filter, allowing us to actually hear what the other is asking for. It’s basically magic, and I am here for it.
2) Our counselor can get us each to do what our partner cannot.
It’s sometimes hard to take life-advice from your partner — at least this has been my experience. Even if you know they’re right, it can feel annoying and condescending coming from them. For example, my husband likes to gently remind me to pay my bills on time. Yes, I should pay my bills on time, and yes I could use some help remembering to do so, but for whatever reason the more he reminds me, the more I seem to resist, despite the fact that it’s in my best interest. When our marital counselor makes the same exact suggestions, though, it suddenly feels constructive and innovative, rather than irritating and redundant.
3) We gain perspective.
Have you ever done one of those magic-eye thingies? You know, where you stare at a picture that looks like an intricate pattern and suddenly you see a clear picture of, say, a schooner? If you’re at too close range, you never see the hidden image; it only works when you pull back a little and let your eyes take in the Big Picture. This happens in marriage. Being in the marriage, we’re often too close to an issue to gain perspective. For example, my husband admits he has a bit of an unrealistic expectation for how clean our house should be, given that we have small children. For a long time, though, he didn’t see it that way. It was only when our therapist pointed out that his perfectionism was stemming from deeper rooted issues that he realized he might want to examine this a little closer. The therapist was removed enough to see the ‘schooner’ and was able to help us see it too.
4) We remember that we like each other.
Marital counseling is a bit like date night in that we get time to just be together without the kids. It is in these moments that we remember why we are together in the first place (hint: it isn’t to figure out carpools, or bedtimes, or common core math, or who is doing bath time tonight). Sitting on a couch together brings us back to us, and that is pretty awesome. And as a result, we started scheduling intentional, weekly dates together.
5) It feels good to be in action.
There is something very energizing knowing that you are working toward something. Marriage can be hard. Kids can be hard. Commitment can be hard. Adulting can be hard. If you’re lucky, you have friends to whom you can vent about these things. And while that provides some momentary relief, it isn’t exactly the same as working towards an actionable solution. Marital counseling feels proactive because it is proactive, and it always feels good to be in the solution. Often I can walk in to a session feeling a bit hopeless and like we are at a dead-end about something, but every single time I leave I feel filled with hope and excitement about applying a new insight to our relationship.
6) You are reminded that most things are resolvable.
When I am in the heat of a disagreement or frustration, my mind tends to jump to the worst-case-scenario. I can easily time-travel to a future where the issue at hand never gets resolved, and I even tap in to the frustration of what that seemingly-inevitable failure will feel like. But when I am sitting in marital counseling talking through these exact same issues, they seem to shrink. There is almost always a solution to a problem, or at least a course of action we can take.
The narrative that marriage counseling is some sort of punishment must be smashed. It is a bit unrealistic to think that we are going to spend forever with one person ‘happily ever after’, without a little maintenance. Even the most deluxe cars still require an oil change every 10,000 miles. Marriage counseling has allowed us to gear up for our next 10,000.