“This is better than marriage counseling.” I said to my husband. We laughed but, it seemed, reality hung in the air. Truth is, it really was.
There seems to be a stigma about going to marriage counseling. The (woman) thinks it can change (her husband’s) habits: He’s not listening to me, no team effort, etc. He doesn’t want to go into an office and let someone else tell him how to run his life, someone he doesn’t know. That can make the husband feel very powerless, and I haven’t really heard any wives provide success stories either. Of course this is a generalization and not, under any circumstance, all-inclusive. I believe the structure we use would work for anyone. ♥ for all!
I completely respect counselors. They have an insanely difficult, stressful job. Pun intended? I’ve seen several myself, primarily for managing my own stress and acquiring an unbiased opinion of the way I’m tackling life just to make sure I haven’t jumped on the crazy train yet. (I have a tendency to overload myself.)
It’s important both parties feel like they are at the same advantage level. If the wife has been seeing someone (this sounds bad first of all) and now suddenly the husband is called in, he can feel invaded, because this counselor has a preconception about him and the husband knows nothing of them.
“Invasion underway!” husband thinks. “Fortify structures! Do not let them get to the vault!”
So how can someone expect that to be effective? The second party is on the defense.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the husband talks to his buddies at work about his wife and what a (insert bad name here) she is, complains about all the things she’s done wrong or doesn’t do at all, or how emotional she is. I’ve worked in several fields where the majority of the time my coworkers were men. I know. I don’t judge, but if it’s said, can you blame anyone around you for hearing it? It’s just a thing. It happens. He’s comfortable with his buddies. But, when she finds out from those buddies via the questions and comments they make when they meet you at the bar or when you’re carpooling somewhere, just wait until you get home… You are so screwed.
So we’re at odds. Who do we turn to if we can’t solve problems on our own? There’s the big issue: trying to go it alone. The issue is: we’re individuals that need to work together. And we’re not.
Isn’t that what marriage is about? Being united, together, two lives become one?
This isn’t my solution but could work for you. Religious counseling has a very different reputation. Both parties can feel comfortable with the pastor-counselor because of the common belief system and knowing the pastor cares equally and will do right by the spirit, and principles of a higher power, and not the individual. It involves the element of faith, and the second spouse to get involved feels less violated if it occurs in this single to couple fashion. My husband and I both grew up in church. There is a definite cohesiveness to the bond between a couple when an over-arching set of morals presides. Since we’ve been on the road, we haven’t found an establishment. So we’re on our own.
For those not involved in religion, all you need is your own set of agreed-upon values. (Sometimes this comes in a pre-nup. But you can make it at any time.)
This is where I had my moment of realization.
What a couple needs when in distress:
- Acknowledge a problem that bothers both* parties with a single, specific goal. I can’t stress the ‘specific’ part enough.
- Find a level playing field. (Pastor, neutral friend, a counselor both people are comfortable enough with to truly open up) This can also be a set of parameters for what’s acceptable to bring to the session. Things unrelated to the problem are not to be discussed. Like bringing up the toilet seat issue when talking about something else, just so one can have more firepower. It’s a toilet seat. There are more important things to worry about right now.
- Work together to solve the problem. The problem will not solve itself. Both parties must be willing to:
- Do the work to fix the issue at hand,
- Help the other when they need it,
- Listen to feedback when it is given.
For better, for worse…
We’ve had some terrible moments. I’m not going to lie. There are a few times we thought we might not be able to hold it together. But when the truth came out that we were bothered by separate matters, or even the same one, and it was making us irritable and short with one another, we could see past the exterior stresses and realize we were still strong. We* weren’t having trouble together. The world and life were just getting to us.
And now, we tackle problems together. Whether it’s mine, or his, or ours, it doesn’t matter. We* are together. What affects him affects me and vica versa. It only makes sense we support each other, even when we’re acting snotty, or getting a little mouthy.
Now, we have a code.
When we realize what’s going on, that our significant other has fallen victim to stress and impatience, we stop what we’re doing (let the dinner boil over if we have to) stop right in front of them, look them in the eyes as we take them into our arms and say:
Pause for a second and look at me. The only thing that matters right now, in this moment, is us. I love you. Just breathe.
When the other has calmed down, we ask what they need and we honor it. If it’s help with whatever they’re working on, we give it. If it’s space so they can process, we respect it.
Always ask. Clarification never hurt anyone. It only helps us gain proper understanding so we may address issues appropriately.
Assumptions are a sure-fire way to end up in a ditch because they imply certain things, like our pre-conceived notions about how others operate based on how we were raised, on what we were taught, exposing prejudices and the like. Terrible things.
Never use the word ‘should.’ Has anyone ever said anything to you like this:
You shouldn’t have done that. You should’ve thought of this.
How does it make you feel? Respected? or like a child being scolded? Again, this is an example of an assumption, an expected action or result. When we don’t live up to these standards it can leave one feeling the lesser for it. And that opens a whole ‘nother can of worms.
Be patient. People are not machines to be dialed up or down, switched off, or modified with coding adjustments. We are biochemical structures that operate on patterns of stimuli whether internal or external. Patterns register over time. We’re a sort of gradient being. Subtle changes may not be noticeable at first. At some point, you’ll hit a threshold and acknowledge it. Just keep things in perspective so you don’t judge preemptively or give up too early.
Give yourselves a chance.
Follow the steps above and they will help guide you to a better circumstance for achieving a successful relationship.
This is our latest counseling session:
- Problem – F-350 6.0 won’t start. It pulls our house. Important. No fix is working. We’ve replaced tons of parts. Spent lots of money. We’re getting frustrated.
- Neutral Counselor – We care about her, Big Red I’ve named her (also my husbands CB call sign), so she’s like our friend. We want her happy and humming, and she needs us to help make that happen.
- Working Together – I don’t know much about diesels but my husband does. So he taught me how to help and I did half the motor. If he requests a tool, I get it. If I request he show me something again, he does. When I smash a finger and curse (I know, I’m a horrible person), he takes over. When his meaty hands don’t fit in the smaller spaces, I climb up and snake my little arm in where he can’t. It’s a give and take, all the while working to get that motor running smoothly again.
There is nothing better than working towards a common goal and achieving it together. We’ve had a lot of counseling sessions like this. Were they always successful? Hell no. But they got better over time. We grew closer. After you bandage up each other’s cuts and scrapes a few times, kiss a few bruises, you feel better even if your injured fingers still sting like the dickens. Because you know someone cares. (This is literally essential for us to live, not just exist.)
And while our example might be an external problem, and not internal, making it easier for us to join forces and attain a common solution, it has been a patch of briars we have been sleeping in for three years. You think that doesn’t equate to internal problems? Guess again.
If your problem is rooted internally, like a character flaw you didn’t see before, or someone cheated, best seek true counseling. But remember, you got married for a reason. Focus on the good things you liked about one another, and that you were willing to take on the world together. Now’s your chance to show the world exactly what you meant.
We get it. Life can totally suck.
Medical conditions pop out of nowhere. Jobs are lost. Trucks won’t run. Pregnancies fail. Family members pass. People you thought were your friends suddenly stop responding… Life becomes a whole new monster. It all happens. All of these have happened to us.
It’s just life.
You’re in this together. Fight back together.
Our best of luck to you.
♥ Elysia & Will