We do marriage counseling (and 5 signs it may be time)

19 August 2013

image above: courtesy of Verite Photo.

*disclaimer: I'm hesitating a bit to write this as I am not a counselor, nor am I trained in counseling. I just super recommend it. Consult your spouse, doctor and/or pastor.
Whew. Continue.

So now you know Matt and I do marriage counseling. While we haven't found an Irish counselor yet, I'm wondering if it's time to do the leg work necessary before a crisis hits. Here's our personal 5 signs when it's time for us to go back to marriage counseling:

  1. A lot of sighing, multiple times a day.
  2. One of us always asking, "Are you OK?" with the other one responding, "Yeah," when you're so not.
  3. Failure to get out of bed or failure to get into bed.
  4. Right before or right after we move overseas.
  5. Fighting in front of the kids. (this is last ditch, usually, and a good wake-up call for us)

These are our signs. Yes, sighing a lot isn't really all that traumatic or telling, but for us it's an indicator that one of us (mostly me) needs to talk, but either can't get the words out or isn't getting the response or engagement he or she is looking for (again, mostly me).

As I said last week, I think counseling is at its most valuable when it comes before the crisis. It's important to us to find those pre-crisis signs indicating a need for counseling and the better communication, clarity and honesty that comes with it.

For people who aren't as adept at reading the seriousness of a loud sigh, here are five actual signs it may be time for marriage counseling:

1) LIFE CHANGE & TRANSITION :: If you find yourself and your family leading up to (or immediately following) a big life change. You know I've tried to perfect "living in transition" ... and actually, the "living in transition" series all began because our counselor wanted me to have an action plan for our indefinite transition period. So, our rough definition of transition is a year before or after a life change or other significant event or circumstance. Examples can be moving, new baby, new job, death, divorce or reconciliation. This is often a high stress and all-around exhausting time where communication can hit an all-time low and freak-outs are bound to occur (as evidenced by the archives of this blog). A marriage counselor can help the whole family find ways of coping and thriving despite circumstances.

2) PARENTING ISSUES :: If you or your spouse is concerned about your child or disagree in how to raise, teach or discipline. Sharing these concerns with a counselor can truly release this burden from your shoulders and enable you and your partner the space and freedom to discuss it sans kiddos (I speak from experience... turns out our 4 year old did not have gender identity confusion). 

3) FINANCIAL PRESSURES :: If you and/or your partner are feeling the weight of bills and budgets, or you're at odds in how to budget or deal with financial stress. You just can't mess around with money issues. Yes, paying a counselor may add an extra line to your budget, but that bi-weekly or monthly fee pales in comparison to the alternative.

4) ROLE EXPECTATIONS :: If you find yourself sparring over who does what in your home, marriage and life. Ideally, this is sorted before making a life-long commitment, and how Matt and I eventually ended up in the Equally Shared Parenting camp. But even the most well-intentioned couple can unintentionally fall back on unspoken expectations and a counselor can help draw out family dynamics (past and present) that both hinder and help role definitions.

5) YOU'RE IN A CRISIS :: Chances are, you will know it when you're in it. I hesitate to put any details here because no matter what it looks like to an outsider, if you feel in crisis, you are in crisis. We were in crisis once, and our counselor was so adept, gently diffusing the tension, waiting out the pain with us, and providing us with next steps to climb out of the crisis... and stay out of it.

Ok, did I mention I'm not a counselor? These are just signs, probably ones you've already thought of and moved on from. But it's my true, deep-in-the-heart prayer that whomever is in need of a mediator, an advocate, a third party or a friend will find it.

For us, it's not only been a marriage counselor, but also a friend, a coworker, a pastor or a family member. We are so blessed to be surrounded by a community of love-warriors (yes, that's a term and I just made it up). They root for us and encourage us to seek the best in one another and reach for help when necessary. Because of them, I'm totally chill with saying, "Yeah, we do marriage counseling. And it's good."

I wish everyone that same support, minus the stigma.


So, did I miss anything? How has counseling helped (or not helped) you manage life's winding road?

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