Many couples think marriage counseling is a forum to voice how mad they are and vent about how big a jerk their spouse is. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Marriage counseling is not about how "I" feel or look, or what "I" want. The goal of marriage counseling is to learn some tools so you can both wake up each day and ask yourselves, "How can I make my spouse happy that they're alive and married to me?".
Each one of us comes into a marriage with our own neurotic patterns that we've picked up from our childhoods. We tend to follow them blindly or act like our moms and dads expecting a different result.
I remember one young couple who came to see me when I was in private practice. Every time they would have a disagreement, the husband would argue his wife into the ground until he was right. Where did this come from? His father was military, and he was brought up to never back down. He was punished if he said or did anything that wasn't exactly right. As a result, his brain equated being wrong with not being loved.
Ultimately, we all want to be happy and loved. Here are some signs that counseling could help your marriage, some responses to the common excuses people use to avoid it, and how to approach your spouse about going to counseling together:
It's not a healthy, happy marriage if:
- It seems like everyone and everything is more important to your spouse than you (and vice versa).
- You and your spouse are rehashing the same argument day after month after year.
- Arguing and fighting are the primary ways you and your spouse connect.
- You find yourself getting more depressed and miserable as time goes by because your spouse is pulling the emotional rug out from under you.
- You find yourself increasingly and consistently not liking your spouse anymore.
Responses to common excuses:
- "I don't have the time to go to counseling." Well, you'll have plenty of free time when you're divorced.
- "I don't have the money." Divorce is going to cost you a whole lot more than a few counseling sessions. In addition, there are programs at your local university for clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, and marriage and family therapists. These students need to put in a number of hours to qualify for a license, and it is usually done by your ability to pay.
- "I'm worried about my friends and family judging me." Keep it private.
- "I'm embarrassed to tell the counselor my problems." Don't be. They've heard it all (even the weird sexual things). That's what they're there for.
- "Talking to someone isn't going to help." Not with that attitude it isn't. It won't help if you spend the hour venting, complaining and bitching. If, instead, the session is spent clarifying and learning some skills and strategies that you can practice at home, it will be very helpful.
- "My spouse refuses to go with me." Go by yourself. A relationship takes two people. Even if you think your spouse is the one who needs to change, start by changing yourself (unless they are a total sociopath). You'd be amazed at how much someone will change when you do.
- "Counseling is a sign of weakness." You are NOT a weak person if you need counseling. It takes a lot of strength to make changes and admit that you need help.
How to approach your spouse:
When you approach your spouse about going to counseling, never tell them that you need to go to fix them. That will only be met with defensiveness. Instead say, "I need to learn how to be a better husband/wife, and I would really appreciate it if you would come with me to help me do that."
Go for one or two sessions. Then talk about whether or not you're comfortable with it, if you like the therapist, and if anything productive is happening.