We do marriage counseling (and it is good)

15 August 2013

image above: courtesy of Verite Photo.

I'm in this weird phase right now where I try to decide what's blog-worthy and for public consumption and what's best to remain just-for-us. Some things are obvious - do you really want an hourly recap on our potty training escapades? - while others remain elusive and ambiguous. There are some things I really want to share... and others, well, not so much.

So here's my current appropriateness barometer: will it help someone?

Yes, I know that's all big and out there and self-important. But there are a few bloggers - less than a handful - whose confessions and diatribes and play-by-plays leave me sighing, near tears, saying, "Yes, yes, that's me." It makes me feel:

1) not so crazy,
2) validated or known, and
3) like at least I'm not as bad as [fill-in-the-blank].

Which leads me to marriage counseling. We go to it. And it is good.

Ok, we're not really going to it now. We're still newish here and I so loved our stateside guy (he's been around since that 9 year old and her sad stories) and finding an affordable counselor we both like with a similar life philosophy stresses me out. So, yeah, we're not attending weekly sessions or anything. But we do marriage counseling, and like I said: it is good.

Next week I'll share five signs it could be time for marriage counseling. But to start, I want to try and remove any cringe-inducing wince-factors you may come across when you hear some sorry sap say he and the missus are going to marriage counseling. This is usually how it goes:

Bob: "Suzy and I are in marriage counseling."
Awkward Friend: "Ohhhh, hmmm," (with knowing nod).

This alone is groundbreaking as someone has just admitted to going to - insert knowing nod - marriage counseling. I dare say most friendships never enter this territory, where one feels safe saying those five syllables outloud without implying you've hit the rocks and you and your spouse are stranded adrift in search of lifeboats. We're afraid to say it, afraid of suppositions. We're afraid of outsiders judging the quality of our family, the strength of our intimacy, the legitimacy of our bonds of matrimony.

But you don't have to be in crisis to be in counseling. Actually, I think it's preferable not to be. In my experience, counseling is at its most valuable when it comes before the crisis.

For us, it's an off and on thing. There have been years we've sailed along without any 3rd party interference (apart from our children, and some in-laws, and maybe the ocassional couch-crasher). We've simply not felt like we needed it. Other times, we find ourselves in a pickle, or in high-demand mode, or about to enter a crazy season. In these times, the first one to the punch - Hey, honey, let's go to counseling! - wins. It helps that we've both been open to it, we knew a guy, and so we went.

What do we do in counseling? We talk about our backgrounds, our families and their eccentricities (even the most "normal" ones have them!). We share about our kids and any worries or joys we feel on their behalf. We open up about our own weaknesses. We acknowledge when there's fear.

But most importantly, we listen. 

There's this independent question-asker who can draw out things usually left unsaid or misunderstood. We hear thoughts, longings from a different perspective. And then when one of us is on a roll, the other is at full-attention. We soak it all in without realizing it. Just because we're there. Just because, for this one hour, nothing is more important than hearing one another.

Does it always end in cuddles and smiles? No, not always. This is hard work, people! Sometimes there is tension, frustration or messiness. I've been known to pout my way home in the passenger seat. But instead of being hidden away in the junk drawer, the messiness is laid right there on the table. You gotta do something with it now. You've gotta sort through it and put everything in its right place.

Which is what you do at the next session because the buzzer just rang and time is up.


So, marriage counseling (or any old regular counseling, for that matter). Do you do it, too? Has it been good?

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