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A Testimony for Couples Counseling

Originally posted on ASeriousGirl.com

STILL GROWING

After Mike and I had been dating for a year, we started having disagreements that would go on for days at a time. I wouldn’t call them fights because we never threw punches or anything, but something would come up and one of us would get upset and then the other one would get upset and then things would be really awkward for a while. After a week or so we’d meet up for coffee and try to talk about it and things would be ok for a few weeks but then something would come up and we would get all weird again. After several months of being fine one minute and awkward the next, I started worrying that if we didn’t learn how to communicate effectively our relationship would fall apart.

I knew that I loved Michael and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I knew this because we had the same values and the same goals, we made each other laugh, we had common interests, we respected one another. But I couldn’t spend another week in awkward silence, so I suggested we try counseling.

“I would really like to go to couples counseling with you.”
“Why?”
“I think we need to learn how to communicate better.”
“We don’t need counseling.”

And that was that. For six months. Six months of dancing around topics we couldn’t talk about because if we did we’d end up in tears or screaming or breaking up.

Then, one beautiful spring morning, Mike looked at me over coffee and said the three little words I’d been longing to hear: “Let’s start counseling.”

We had our first appointment the following Thursday. Within a few weeks, Thursday’s had become our favorite day of the week. They were our day. A day we devoted to spending quality time together and getting to know one another. Every Thursday I’d leave work early and drive to Sherman Oaks where Michael would be waiting for me with my favorite Starbucks latte. We’d walk arm-in-arm to our therapist’s office and no matter how the session ended, regardless of if we were weeping or glowing, we’d go to In N’ Out for dinner and talk about what came up during the session. And every Thursday, even if we’d started dinner in tears, by the time we kissed goodbye we were holding hands again.

Talking honestly about one’s feelings can be very difficult, but it is a significant and important step towards learning how to communicate. We soon discovered that the thing we were refusing to talk about, the thing that had become the fat ugly beast hovering in the room, the thing causing all those weeks of awkward silences was Marriage. Mike had asked me to move in with him every month for the last six months and each time I’d said, “I won’t move in with you unless we’re engaged.” I wanted to marry him but I didn’t want to give the milk away for free. Mike fully intended to marry me, but he needed to know that we could live together without killing one another. His hesitance to propose wasn’t a reflection of his feelings for me and my refusal to move in wasn’t a reflection of my feelings for him. We both wanted to live together and we both wanted to get married, we’d just been too scared to talk about it.

A few months after our first counseling session Michael asked me to move in with him and I said yes. Two months later we were sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier and his hands were shaking as he held out a tiny blue velvet box. The stars were flung over our heads, the night air was cool and filled with the scent of the sea, and somewhere someone was playing a guitar. It was the most romantic proposal in the history of all marriage proposals. I blame it on couples counseling.

Choose your road

Over the years Robert and I have observed the wreckage of hundreds of failed marriages.  And I’ve discovered (and I’m sure Robert would agree), through the many difficulties and challenges I’ve faced with my wife, that it has always come down to this: I’ve had to deal with my problems and she’s had to deal with her problems.  To do that we’ve had to seek outside help at various times, both separately and as a couple.  With that help we’ve watched as the problems that came between us fell into clearer perspective.  I don’t know about you, but a clearer perspective always compels me to look inward and see the ways in which I contribute to a problem.  When I’m focusing on the ways I can change a situation I don’t like, I’m too busy to go looking for someone else to blame.

In most cases, divorce is unneccessary.  Divorce usually creates more problems than it solves, if it even solves any. Marital disputes can be launching pads to heightented awareness and growth. It’s your choice.

When a marriage is in trouble the first place to go is not a lawyers office.  Between the nuptial bliss of the bedroom and the paneled chambers of the courthouse lie a wide range of helpers who are too seldom sought out.  Couples can reach out to pastors, rabbis, supportive family and friends. There are dozens of books that can help you — click here for some of my favorite recommendations. There are also licensed counselors who are trained to help individuals and couples deal with issues at the root of the cause, so that real healing can happen.  If the cost of counseling is a concern, find a community counseling center or a community family service agency in your area.  These programs are intended to help people, and often offer counseling at lower costs or a sliding scale.  Divorce is inevitable in this country, but it doesn’t have to happen to you.

No Romance?

A British news website did a short piece on Gwyneth Paltrow admitting to marriage struggles. The headline blared, Paltrow Admits to Marriage Struggles, as if she’d announced to the press that her marriage was doomed.  In actuality it was a simple blurb noting that even movie stars have to put effort into marriage.

Marriage isn’t a love affair. Love affairs are all about immediate personal satisfaction, the chase, the thrill, the passion. Marriage is a process. It’s a journey that requires courage and vulnerability, patience and empathy, strength and commitment.

Maybe you feel like you and your spouse have grown apart. Maybe you’ve been living more like roommates than lovers for too long to admit. Maybe your spouse doesn’t understand you or you don’t understand your spouse. Divorce doesn’t have to be the only choice left. Marriage counseling can do wonders. Reestablishing a weekly date night, even if it’s an hour at a free museum, can help remind you why you first became friends, lovers, life partners.

Some people marry the right person the first time. Other people aren’t so lucky. How do you know if you married the right partner for life? Ask yourself the following questions.  Your answers may surprise you.

  • Which qualities attracted you to your spouse in the first place? Does your spouse still have the character qualities you found so attractive when you first met?
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  • Is your spouse most often honest, trustworthy, faithful, supportive and kind?
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  • Is your spouse willing to change and grow to meet the dynamics of your relationship?
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  • Will divorce have a harmful effect on you or your family? Will staying married have a more harmful effect?
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  • How will the divorce affect your family, especially your children? How will staying married affect your family, especially your children?  Does that matter to you?  How much?
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  • Do you still love each other?