Marriage counseling has a spotty reputation, it seems.
When I first mentioned that my husband (ex-husband now) and I were going to counseling, I got mixed reviews from my friends. Everything from, "That's great! I'm glad you two are trying to make things better" to "Everyone knows that marriage counseling is a sure sign of divorce."
I suppose then that makes us a bad argument for counseling since we are in the divorce process, but in my opinion, marriage counseling is a great idea and not necessarily a sign that you and your partner will be splitsville soon enough. Here are some solid reasons to seek marriage counseling, as well as some things to expect when starting therapy.
It Never Ends
More often than not, do you go to bed angry with your spouse? When you share that you and your husband are fighting, do your friends say, "Again?" Does it seem like everything between the two of you is a battle? If your marriage seems like a daily battle, there's big trouble in little China, and avoiding the problem at hand will put you two at a risk for divorce if the issues go too far. Don't be that person who sits there and says, "Oh, it's no big deal." It's a big deal, and while a good marriage does require work, it doesn't require war attire.
Did something happen between the two of you, but you say you've moved on or your ex says he has moved on, yet the fact is no one has moved on? The skeleton in the closet will rattle the bones of your marriage. Letting things build up inside of you quietly only means that eventually when you explode, it will be ugly. Therapy can help you work through this resentment. Staying angry at a spouse will not make your marriage better or you happier. It will only make everyone more miserable.
If either one of you has been unfaithful, therapy is a must if you have both decided to stay together. I don't believe that an affair should always end a marriage, and if you and your spouse have decided to stay together after one of you was unfaithful, that's great, but how do you make peace and improve upon your marriage? Esther Perel, an author, speaker, and psychotherapist, says that many couples can grow tremendously after an affair. Therapy can be a safe place to let out anger, sadness, and other emotions in order for you and your partner to move forward.
Sex No More
I understand that sex drive is on a bell curve, but if your sexual life with your partner has dwindled away despite you or your partner's efforts to fuel desire, therapy is in order. There can be so many reasons a couple stops having sex: depression, money issues, anger, self-esteem, and physical issues. That sexual connection, though, is what makes your partner your partner, and not just your friend. If your intimate life together is dying out, a therapist could help you both unearth the real causes.
If you are constantly doing things separately and not just because someone has to stay home to watch the kids, that's a big old ugly red flag. Yes, couples should do things separately. If you're not growing as an individual, how can you be a healthy partner? But if you're always doing things separately, it's a sign that maybe you two are disconnected from each other. Therapy could clear the air and get you two having fun again!
If you can't agree on how to raise your kids and fight over everything from iPad time to bedtime routines, you two should sit down in front of a counselor before you create problems for your kids and your marriage. You won't always see eye to eye with your partner, but if you two aren't even on the same planet when it comes to raising your kids, you may want to call that shrink today.
What to Expect
Some people start therapy expecting the therapist to "side" with them. Here's a news flash: good therapists don't take sides. Instead, they address issues with both parties and maintain an objective stance. The goal of therapy isn't to find a winner but to help two unhappy people shed bad relationship habits and form a healthier, happier connection.
Not me? If you think that you will enter therapy and the therapist will be like, "Oh, you're so right! Your partner is clearly 100 percent in the wrong," you're in for a surprise. What you think are big crimes that your partner is committing may actually be slight offenses and something you need to let go, in the eyes of the therapist. The therapist will also point out what you're doing that's negatively impacting your marriage. This can be hard to hear, but it's worth it. I often found that when I first heard criticism, it stung sometimes — not always, but once we left the office, I was able to really digest what was said and drink in the feedback.
Is your partner resistant to going to therapy? If he still goes and listens to the therapist despite said skepticism, you've got a chance here! If, however, your partner shows up but resists listening to the therapist or, worse, won't go, that's not good news. Both parties have to be committed to therapy for it to work. In my case, my ex was totally skeptical the whole time, and it meant our progress was stonewalled. I'm not saying it would have saved us had he opened his mind more, but it wouldn't have hurt the situation.
Do Your Homework
If the therapist gives you assignments or weekly suggestions, be a good student and listen. Even if the suggestions you get seem weird or too difficult to do, buck up and give it a shot! If what you were doing before was working so well, you wouldn't be in counseling. Take your old ideas and throw them out the window, and try something new for a change. It just might work!
Your marriage won't be rebuilt in a day. Relationships aren't puzzles that have logically fitting pieces (typically). Be patient and expect therapy to take some time. Expect setbacks, expect lows, expect highs, but most importantly, be committed to making it work.
In the End
No marriage is perfect. You could walk away from your spouse, find someone new, and deal with a whole bunch of other junk with that person. If you expect marriage to be like a never-ending fairy tale with bunnies and rainbows every day, you're in for big disappointment. Marriage can be a fairy tale with a strong love and connection, but remember, even fairy tales included obstacles and challenges, but with those challenges come growth. Experience the growing pains, and you'll benefit from a happier marriage afterward!