After 10 years of marriage, I thought my husband and I had faced every challenges a couple could encounter, and conquered them all with flying colors. We'd been broke, moved to a new state, and welcomed three children together. We'd fought and made up, endured romantic dry spells, and dealt with in-law drama. Our relationship wasn't perfect, but we were doing OK. Until we lost a pregnancy late in the second trimester, and our world, and our marriage, fell apart.
When you are forced to confront your biggest fear head-on, you learn a lot about yourself, and your partner. There we were, dealing with a shocking and painful turn of events, in completely different ways. I wore my raw emotions on my sleeve. He carried on for our family, stoic and strong. My resentment toward him quickly grew. There was suddenly a space between us. In the fog of my grief, I couldn't help but think that we'd lost our baby, so why bother to save our marriage? I told him one night, "We aren't going to make it."
That's when we turned to couples counseling, something we had never considered before. But I feared if we didn't get help, a separation was inevitable. I remember sitting on that sofa in the therapist's office for our first session, feeling numb. I couldn't believe we were here, but on some level, I must have been open to getting help. There was no way we were equipped to successfully wade through the overwhelming emotions of loss alone. I didn't know where to start, as my fears, guilt, and sadness permeated every aspect of our lives, threatening to take our marriage down with the ship.
Therapy wasn't exactly what I thought it would be. I didn't feel pressured to talk about things I wasn't ready to discuss. There was no hot seat, no feeling trapped in a small room, or having your insecurities laid bare under a microscope. The key to counseling working for us was finding a couples counselor with whom we both felt comfortable talking to. It was also essential to want to be there; to want to get help. Here's what else I learned about couples counseling during our experience, and how it stands to benefit any struggling marriage:
- It's OK to ask for help. When your relationship hits a rough patch or worse, you don't have to have all the answers, or know how to fix things. There is no shame in admitting you need outside help to move forward.
- Counseling enables you to get out of your own head. I definitely had tunnel vision when it came to how I was feeling about my relationship post-loss. My therapist helped me see that my husband's stoicism, which hurt my feelings since I ached so outwardly, was actually providing stability for our kids, while I showed them it was OK to grieve.
- A neutral party's advice is easier to hear. If your dad tells you to focus on saving your marriage, you think, "He doesn't understand what I'm going through." When an unbiased counselor informs you that many marriages don't survive the loss of a child, it sobers you into realizing how close you are to losing the most important person in your life, and spurs you into action.
- You say things in therapy you wouldn't in normal conversation. While I was sitting on that sofa, I somehow found the courage to be honest about my feelings and what I needed. It felt like a safe space, unlike our super-charged bedroom. I found that while we were in the room, and with the support of the counselor, I could face my husband and tell him the truth about why I was pushing him away, just when I needed him most.
- You learn tools to help you navigate future issues. With the help of our counselor, we were able to see that the ways we behaved toward one another were part of a pattern. So when I was upset, and my husband asked me, "What's wrong?" I'd immediately resent him for not knowing I missed our baby. In our sessions, we worked on alternate things he could say in moments I felt sad, that would help, not hurt me. Likewise, I learned that sometimes he needs me to tell him what I need, instead of him having to guess.
Ultimately, couples counseling was constructive for us in so many ways. I know it is one of the reasons we are still together almost a year later. To any couple struggling, I would highly recommend trying therapy, before you give up on the person whom you promised to love and cherish, in good times and in bad.