10 Ways Marriage Counseling Can Be Your Relationship’s Secret Weapon
A Columbia University-trained psychotherapist with more than a decade of clinical experience, I’ve come to believe that what it means to help people in therapy is to help them create their lives and I relish in this challenging, playful activity.
Your relationship doesn’t need to be falling apart to seek marriage counseling. You wouldn’t wait for a lung infection to get dire before seeing a doctor, so why would you let your marriage get in trouble before seeing a marriage therapist? In fact, marriage counseling can be your relationship’s secret weapon, giving you tools for a healthy marriage. In order to address the ways marriage counseling can strengthen your marriage (even if it isn’t on the rocks), I’ve listed 10 things couples who’ve been to marriage counseling know that makes them more successful at marriage:
1. How to shut down a fight when it goes too far
All marriages benefit from avoiding fights, but what about when that’s not possible? In marriage counseling, you learn both you and your partner’s tendencies when each of you are angry and develop a practice for what to do when fighting gets heavy. This helps keep things from getting out of control.
2. How to get help when stuck
Partners in marriage can get stuck just like anyone else. What might seem intractable can shift when help is brought in. Marriage counseling is a form that help can take, but it should be acknowledged that marriage counseling is expensive and not always convenient. However, talking about marriage in counseling can help make difficult aspects of a marriage less private. Scary stuckage can become more ordinary. Couples in marriage counseling learn how to get help and can go on to apply that help elsewhere.
3. Curiosity, curiosity, curiosity
Curiosity is like magic in a marriage and a key aspect of successful marriage counseling. All couples have the experience of finding one another’s positions to be absurd or irritating. In marriage, though, we can’t always walk away. While curiosity may seem like a simple skill, learning how to go very deep and avoid the pull to defend or fix takes practice.
4. Knowing when and how to walk away and circle back, trusting that the ground will shift with space and time
Not every conflict can be resolved at any given moment. Not only do the responsibilities most married couples have interfere, but sometimes, we’re also just too hot to get into things. At first, a couple may agree to hold things until their marriage counseling session. But, with time and good counseling, however, everyone can make peace with setting things aside.
5. How to apologize
Apologizing is another task that’s not easy to pull off. In marriage counseling, partners often discover their shortcomings at giving a genuine apology. Counseling is also a place to look at what sorts of historical issues might be in the way of both partners being able to fully embrace having been wrong. Of course, apologizing takes vulnerability. There’s often work to do in marriage counseling regarding learning both how to apologize and how to receive an apology.
6. How to forgive
Forgiveness doesn’t come easy. And, in some ways, it shouldn’t. Forgiveness has a number of meanings–an important one is that you signal to the person being forgiven that you are ready again to trust. Forgiveness is among the issues that can feel most hopeless immediately following being harmed. Spouses so often wonder how their marriage will ever be happy again after an affair or a similar break of trust. While trust isn’t about certainty, there are many ways that someone who’s been harmed in a marriage can find their way to feeling safe again. Often being wronged raises old issues–those that predate the marriage or have been longstanding and/or unresolved in the marriage itself. Marriage counseling can help expose these elements that can otherwise get lost in the immediate breach of trust.
7. Spouses can keep getting to know one another through the duration of their marriage
Most married couples report in marriage counseling that they believe they know more or less all there is to know about their partner. After all, partners often know one another better than they know anyone else. But, in truth, there is always more to know. While these discoveries can be exciting no matter the content, often areas of conflict emerge or are difficult to resolve because of a lack of knowing. A good marriage counselor will regularly push partners past the point of “Oh, of course I know!” to develop a habit of being curious even when (or especially when) you believe you already know. The result? In a sense, the entire conflict can shift.
8. How to continually reinvent their sex life to compliment the evolving circumstances of life and marriage
As marriage counselors, we frequently hear that there is some expectation that sexual chemistry, excitement or frequency inevitably declines over time. Perhaps it does decline, but this is by no means inevitable. Lots of couples who have been together for a long time have exciting, intimate sex lives. While there’s much that contributes to that, including having a thriving relationship in other ways, an essential component is embracing that, while decline is not inevitable, change is. Marriages change, bodies change, needs change and circumstances change. In a sense, when it comes to couples who are stuck around sex, the job of a marriage counselor is to help couples create new ways of being together sexually. That may include new physical and sexual performances, but also new habits and values around sex in the relationship. For many couples, talking about sex at all, especially outside the bedroom, isn’t a habit. A good marriage counselor doesn’t just push past this–he or she works to understand what kind of environment is needed in the therapy room (and everywhere in the marriage) to change this reluctance.
9. When to lean on your partner and when to lean on anyone but your partner
Among the many assumptions of marriage, the idea that one’s spouse ought to be entirely available for care in hard times is one of the more troubling. Sometimes, a spouse is exactly what’s needed in tough times–to give advice, comfort and practical help. Other times, a spouse may not be the best choice. No one can be everything to anybody. Challenging issues that one spouse deals with are sometimes too close to home for their spouse. Having close relationships outside of the marriage and leaning on those relationships in tough times are habits that can help a marriage thrive. Both partners in a marriage need to be able to say and hear that their partner isn’t available.
10. The importance of relationships outside the marriage
Relationships outside the marriage aren’t just important in hard times. Everyone needs diverse companionship that no one person can provide. Often couples have rules (frequently unspoken) that limit how close or open they’re allowed to be with anyone outside the marriage. In marriage counseling, these rules get exposed and couples learn how vital other relationships are.