Q: What are the benefits of therapy and counseling, and how do I remove the negative image my spouse has around couple’s counseling? When do you know it is time to seek therapy as opposed to just asking advice?
A: Such good questions! Mental health experts have been tirelessly working to demystify the shameful stigma associated with the mental health community. Elderly patients with terminal illnesses have been known to refuse to take an antidepressant because they feel shame admitting they are experiencing low moods and irritability. Go figure! Seems somewhat normal to struggle with low moods and irritability when confronted with a terminal illness and wise to use resources to overcome emotional physical pain. Scripture tells us that the Apostle Paul “learned” to be content in all circumstances. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”-Philippians 4:11-13.
Just like Paul, we have many things to learn about navigating life’s twists and turns. Statistics tell us that persons seeking psychotherapy have higher levels of education than ever before. Consulting an expert when facing trials or for encouragement and inspiration is a smart thing to do. Successful people run towards resources to help with life’s struggles, not away from them. A licensed professional counselor’s role is not to tell you what to do, but instead to listen reflectively to create self-awareness and to aid in establishing and achieving goals. We cannot change what we will not acknowledge, and goals are accomplished in a series of defined steps.
If someone were to ask your children how their parents resolve conflict, what would they say? Chances are, they would not have an answer. Just like there are specific steps to learn to dance a waltz and specific steps to learn to dance a tango, there are specific steps to learn to resolve conflict and specific steps to learn to connect on a deep, emotional level. Do you know these steps? Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute says, “Couples do not divorce necessarily because they fall out of love, couples divorce because they never ‘learned’ how to resolve their problems.”
Couple’s counseling offers a platform to learn vital skills needed for a healthy and intimate marriage relationship, namely healthy communication, and conflict resolution. It also teaches things like common differences between men and women, ways to strengthen a relationship, ways to prevent erosion in a relationship, how to take responsibility for “your side of the street,” how to appreciate personality differences and so much more! We all bring baggage into our marriages from childhood experiences, and counseling offers a venue for resolving issues that hamper our emotional wellbeing. Another option is to find a church that offers marriage counseling, through on-staff counselors, or by way of a married Bible study class. A marriage class is extremely beneficial. You receive the tools needed to have a successful marriage, while at the same time developing friendships with others in your same stage of life and who are also like-minded. A good marriage surrounds itself with other healthy relationships.
Do not let pride stand in the way of taking necessary steps to grow and learn to create a fulfilling relationship with your spouse. God warns us in only four words what happens to those who hang onto pride. “Pride goes before destruction…” -Proverbs 16:18. Successful people do not run away from learning the skills needed to be in a healthy relationship, they run towards them. Good marriages do not “just happen,” rather, they evolve from learning how to resolve problems and connect in meaningful ways.
Patti Hatton, MA, LPC