Ain’t No Shame In The Marriage Counseling Game
I’ve never been one to reach out for help, and I admit that the idea of getting therapy or counseling was repugnant to me. Sit in front of a complete stranger and spill my most private feelings and secrets? No thanks. Especially not in marriage counseling.
I’m a smart gal who took psychology in university and I hold a sociology degree—I figured I knew enough to help me help myself through life’s rough moments. Except I was wrong.
When my husband and I got married, we’d already been dating for eight years. We knew each other well, and had even lived together before swapping rings and vows. Very shortly after our wedding (mere weeks, in fact), we were expecting our first child. We hadn’t even figured out how to be husband and wife, let alone parents. Since then, ten years have passed and while we’ve managed to hang on, it’s been by a tenuous thread at times.
Sometimes love is not enough
Every instinct tells me to keep this information private, but I felt so alone in my troubles that I’ve decided to write about it to give hope to others who may be going through the same thing. I want you to know that if you feel your marriage is suffering, there is no shame in reaching out for help.
In ten years of marriage, my husband and I have sold two homes and lived in three. We have had two children and lost one pregnancy half-way through. We’ve supported one another through job changes, health challenges, personal crises and more. It has been a whirlwind decade and although we’re both fairly positive people by nature, stress has definitely taken its toll.
Suddenly, ten years in, we seemingly had everything people could dream of, but we were not happy. I hadn’t been happy for a long time, but couldn’t seem to figure out why. My husband triggered a conversation that lead to him saying he may want a divorce and that got us really thinking about our futures. What was left of “us”?
What remained between us was very little of the marriage we had once dreamed about. We always thought we communicated well, but when the chips were down, the stories we told were virtually unrecognizable to the other. How was my husband even in the same marriage as I was? He wasn’t seeing things the way I saw them at all. We knew we needed help but he wasn’t sure he wanted to repair the marriage, and while I wanted to try, I wasn’t sure it was even possible.
With just over 40% of first marriages ending in divorce (and that number being even higher for subsequent marriages), we knew it wasn’t easy to work through problems that felt so deep. Given the fact that the average cost of a divorce in Canada is more than $12,800 (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg), we knew that the real cost of divorce was something we needed to address, too.
So why were we so hesitant to reach out to a marriage counsellor?
When help is available, why did we (and why do so many others) shy away from it? There are many reasons. To start, we weren’t sure what we had was really fixable, so why bother trying? Would we be wasting our time and money only to discover we had no hope of repairing our marriage? Also, there was a very real fear that a marriage counselor would take sides and neither of us felt prepared for that. So many articles I found online warned couples away from marriage counseling, stating it could focus too much on individuals, or that many professionals were not truly trained in repairing marriages.
Marriage counselors, you need better PR
Neither of us wanted our personal lives critiqued (does anyone, really?) and it all felt so overwhelming. But finally, with great hesitation and hope, we reached out for marriage counseling. Making that first call to say, “My husband isn’t sure he wants to be married to me anymore” was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do.
Now, we’re only a few sessions in, so I’m telling you all this from the trenches, but I can honestly say it was the best decision we’ve ever made together, aside from getting married in the first place. We have a solid friendship on which to build our relationship and despite the fact that our spark seemed to have fizzled, I felt like there could be hope with help. My husband wasn’t sure, but the value in counseling was that it could help us speak so the other could truly listen, and that would be beneficial no matter what.
Regardless of the direction our relationship went, we wanted to be able to tell our kids we’d both given our marriage a real chance of survival. Whatever baggage we had needed to be resolved, because we feared future relationships would repeat the same patterns. And, since we have children together, our lives would forever be intertwined. Tentatively, we started to open up the most intimate parts of our lives to a stranger hoping for interpretation and guidance.
There is no shame in getting marriage counseling
What we have discovered is that we have not been communicating effectively at all—we speak totally different languages to one another and rely on ourselves to interpret things without seeking clarification from the other. That leads to a lot of unmet expectations, for one thing. Resentment, assumptions, unmet needs, loneliness and stubbornness solidified problems that started before we even said, “I do”.
I wish now that we’d gone for a marriage “tune-up” before our problems became so daunting, but you know what they say about hindsight. We have a lot of work to do and we’ve had many uncomfortable conversations—there’s very little I dislike more than feeling vulnerable and that’s a very large part of this process. But facing these problems head-on is far more welcome than living a life not married to my husband.
I’m writing this to be the voice that tells you that with love, work and commitment, you can build the marriage you want. Counseling really can be successful and I’m so glad we found the courage to try it.
Alex Durrell is a freelance writer, blogger, speaker and entrepreneur. She does in fact blog at I Don't Blog and she covers everything allergy-related at Irritated By Allergies.