All too frequently, the couples I see in my office for marriage counseling/couples therapy are at the end of their rope. There has been trouble in the relationship for a long time; months, years, or even decades of fighting, harsh words, and distance have seriously worn away at their bonds of love and commitment. They might be angry, exasperated, and hopeless. And it is in this state that they come before me asking me to help them make it work.
Certainly, it can be done. I see very few cases where the relationship is a lost cause (often this involves a pattern of abuse on the part of one of the partners). Usually it is just a question of how much work people want to put into a relationship, and sometimes the answer by this point is “not much.”
But far better than trying to repair a relationship that is on its last legs is to polish up a relationship that is facing difficulties, but still standing. If you have years of past offenses that never got resolved, insults that you have stored in your brain, arguments that never got put to rest; if you feel like roommates more than spouses, hardly ever talk, and haven’t had sex in months; if you are distant, emotionally closed off, and indifferent to each other – then recovery is going to be a major effort. But if you still have loving feelings for your partner, dream of having good times again, are able to consider forgiveness, and hope for something more, then the work we’ll have to do is much easier and much more likely to be successful. Though recovery is possible no matter how low things have sunk, couples who are carrying baggage bulging with years of pain often find they lack the stamina and/or will to put in the work it will take.
Sometimes couples will explain that they wanted to “try to work it out on our own” first. This perspective usually belies the opinion that therapy is only for people who “can’t,” that it is something weak people need. The truth is that seeking help when it’s needed is a sign of courage and strength. There is nobody who can do everything on their own all the time. We are human. We have needs. We have lacks. And it’s okay – in fact, necessary – to acknowledge this. Trying to make it through life without ever needing someone else is not only impossible, it’s pretty lonely.
We all know the kind of people who will keep on chugging despite an injury or ailment that seems to be getting worse, claiming they can handle it, until they are physically incapable of carrying on and find themselves in the hospital. As you can imagine, that is not the best approach for one’s health. (Who knows how many people have acted in this manner and done damage to broken bones, exacerbated serious illnesses, or even discovered terminal problems that could have been successfully dealt with earlier?) The same is true in one’s relationship. It is no sign of bravery to march forward in the face of trouble you can’t solve. You aren’t expected to cure your own persistent cough; you go to a doctor who can deal with the problem. So too it does not reflect badly on you to reach out to someone who is trained to help solve problems in your relationship.
Facing the Cost
Another common roadblock to seeking counseling is the expense. We all pay rent and mortgage costs because we know there’s no option. But often it doesn’t feel that way when it comes to couples counseling; that seems more like a luxury than a necessity. And I certainly understand that not everyone has the money to make it happen. However, sometimes it’s more of a perspective shift that needs to happen. For one thing, a happy relationship really ought to be considered a necessity for most of us. Few are the people who are happy going through life on their own. Even fewer are the people who can be in an unhappy marriage and still feel good about all the other parts of their life. If you are in a serious relationship, that relationship forms the context of your life, even though most of us spend most of the day at work and not with our partners. Nonetheless, as you may be quite aware, if your relationship is in turmoil, you’re likely unhappy despite an otherwise satisfactory life. I see many clients with plenty of money, good jobs, nice houses, and a lot of misery on account of a bad marriage.
The other thing to keep in mind regarding cost is that, frankly, a divorce lawyer costs a lot more. So does splitting up your ownings, living on your own, paying for extra childcare and help around the house… staying married so you don’t have to hire a housekeeper is probably not a pathway to marital bliss, but it is a good argument for paying out now for counseling rather than paying out a lot more later for lawyers.
Folks, help me out here. My job is a lot easier when you come to counseling before all the bridges have been burned and all the nasty things have been said. If you found this blog post because you are considering whether you need couples counseling, I urge you to take the plunge and give it a try. Don’t wait until your relationship is at rock bottom; it’s so much harder to get back up at that stage. Come on in and see what we have to say – I am confident that, if you are prepared to put in some work and are not expecting a magic solution or instant fix, you will find it worth your while.