Romance, respect and joy are all essential elements for a good marriage. If those revitalizing parts of a marriage fade away and are left unattended for too long, a couple may think the relationship has reached a dead end.
Or maybe it is true.
It’s possible that your marriage really just needs a fresh perspective. It’s worth the time and effort to reflect on why you and your partner were attracted to each other and wanted to stay in that that partnership for the long-term. It may be time to consider why you thought this was the right match and why you took the leap and got married.
Or maybe it is really time to end your marriage. That’s a tremendous emotional decision and even more heart-wrenching if you have children.
You can, of course, consider those issues on your own. The trouble with that is you and your spouse will most likely be viewing this life-changing decision through the well-worn emotional ruts of resentment, anger and blame. These emotions are real and maybe even well-founded, but that is not a reasonable and practical viewpoint from which to make decisions that will impact the rest of your life.
How a Marriage Counselor Can Help
In the daily stress of a troubled marriage, there’s little time and no emotional distance that allows you to step back, take a breath and see what’s really going on in the relationship.
Even if you could step back, you wouldn’t have the years of experience a marriage counselor has in delving into the deepest pits of emotional turmoil, childhood issues and troubling experiences that have brought you to this crossroad in your marriage.
A professional marriage counselor looks at your situation with the important combination of distance and compassion. A marriage counselor can help you determine what’s changed over the years of your marriage. What are the enduring parts of your relationship with your spouse? What are the troubled areas? What are you and your spouse unable to resolve that’s building up the layers of tension day-by-day and year-by-year?
There are many strategies and styles of marriage counseling and a professional who has been trained and works with the many options can help you find the right one for you. Perhaps it’s a communication issue that can be improved with a different choice of words that are respectful, rather than hurtful. Maybe it’s just that you haven’t put in time together for fun, vacations or new interests. Perhaps you haven’t given yourself the time and respect to grow as an individual, but instead expect your partner to make you “happy.”
There can be deeper and more complex issues. There may be intimacy issues around your sexual relationship. One partner may be struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, an anger management problem or depression.
The Right Time for Marriage Counseling
It’s relatively easy to determine the right time to seek assistance from a marriage counselor.
Are you concerned that you and your spouse can’t communicate peacefully enough to reach decisions that you can both live with?
Do you and your spouse argue about money, parenting, the division of household responsibilities, in-laws or your extended families?
Has there been an affair by one or both of you that’s destroyed trust?
Do you just wish the joy and pleasure you discovered early in your relationship could be renewed?
Are you unsatisfied in some vague way and not sure why?
If one or more of these issues is on your mind, then now is the time to take a step for your emotional and physical health.
Myths and Misconceptions about Marriage Counseling
Sometimes we have expectations about marriage that are below the surface of our awareness.
Romance: Some couples begin to feel disappointment that “the honeymoon is over” a year or two into the marriage. It’s just reality sinking in, not the end of love. There’s nothing embarrassing or “wrong” about seeking marriage counseling early in the relationship to develop healthy communication habits that can keep love fresh through common challenges that face everyone at some point.
Children: There a myth that “children hold a marriage together.” It’s true that children are a bond of love that remains throughout life. There’s also a contrasting view now that a satisfying career and engagement with family, friends and community can be a fulfilling lifestyle. Sometimes one partner wants children and the other doesn’t or one person changes their mind after they’re already married. This may or may not be the end of a marriage, but a counselor can help you determine how to cross that divide.
Golden Years: Some couples think that once they’ve survived the major challenges of creating a home, raising kids and developing careers they should be happy and “home free” to enjoy their “golden years.” But researchers in healthy aging at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that many couples experience increased conflicts at the time of retirement because they suddenly spend much more time together. They may have lingering communication issues that cause them to fight about money. They may have different interests that may lead to arguments about how much time they should spend together.
It’s common to hear that one person in a long-term marriage can’t wait to retire and play golf five mornings a week, while the other has no interest in golf. One partner may want to spend as much time as possible with grandchildren, while the other wants to finally take off and see the world. These are not necessarily marriage-ending differences, although some people do get divorced after 35 years of marriage. They’re just different preferences and a marriage counselor can help find a resolution that satisfies both people.
“These aren’t irreconcilable differences at any age or any stage of marriage,” says Michelle Carlstrom, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the Office of Work, Life and Engagement at Johns Hopkins. “The problem is, by the time most couples seek counseling, they have basically given up on the relationship and turn to therapy to clarify whether they should get divorced.”
Excuses for Not Starting Marriage Counseling
There are many excuses for not seeking the assistance of an experienced marriage counselor, but Carlstrom says make these excuses at your own peril and the potential destruction of what might actually be a fulfilling relationship.
Nothing’s wrong: One or both partners may think “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But unworkable habits or outdated perspectives that came down from your parents may not apply to you and your spouse. A study at Johns Hopkins found that couples married for more than 30 years, with an average age of 60, found that seeking counseling when there were no obvious issues found their emotional and sexual satisfaction improved.
We’re soul mates: Partners who consider their marriage “meant to be” have high expectations that can result in conflicts. Soul mates are people dealing with common challenges and may benefit from the guidance of an experienced marriage counselor.
Therapy Is So Drastic: Try replacing the word “therapy” or “counseling” with “check-up.” It’s just good to see how your systems are functioning and heal any issues while they’re small and manageable. You might also consider the perspective that seeing a marriage counselor is like a recommendation from your doctor to take walks to keep your heart healthy. Only in this case, it’s keeping your heart healthy in the realm of compassion and love.
“Could Your Marriage Benefit from Counseling?” Johns Hopkins Medicine