One of the most important lessons I try to help my clients understand is that maintaining a long-term intimate relationship takes a lot of work, and the work is ongoing. It’s not like you can work on your marriage once and fix it. Life is in constant flux, and we need to be ready to adjust as needed to every new situation in life.
The idea of working hard all one’s life may seem scary. However, you will have to work hard all your life no matter what. So why not do so with a partner who can help you through it and make life more meaningful and fun? That’s what a good marriage can do. It’s worth the effort.
Marriage can make you a better person. The efforts you and your spouse make to heal and help your relationship will make you both better people. Neither you nor your spouse will likely ever be perfect, but you can grow in virtues such as patience, understanding, compassion, and even a good sense of humor.
From a big-picture perspective, I help guide my couples to grow in several areas: communication skills; emotion and anger management; trigger recognition; development of mutual respect, empathy, and compassion; development of healthy problem-solving skills.
Each of these big-picture goals has many aspects, and they are all interconnected, because we are complex, rational beings who often act irrationally. But a few of the aspects include:
Identifying triggers: We all have them, and they are generally grounded in painful past experiences. We might be able to consciously identify why something bothers us, and we might not. For instance, if you were teased a lot in school, you might feel hurt by what your husband thinks of as just joking around. Sometimes identifying the cause of the triggers can actually eliminate the triggers. However, for the most part, unless you heal past hurts, those triggers will remain, and you and your spouse need to be conscious of them and avoid them.
Recognizing that most marriage differences can’t actually be “fixed” and need to be managed: This is important. One of the greatest benefits of marriage is that very different people with different strengths are stronger together than apart because they fill up what the other might lack. However, these very different people also have different weaknesses, or simply different personality traits that might rub each other the wrong way. Triggers are included here, but it is broader than that. Developing methods to manage the differences with patience, love, and good humor is a critical component of counseling.
Managing emotions: Anger is often used to hide pain. Blame, stonewalling, and other poor emotional responses to stress or pain cause a great deal of damage to a marriage. I help couples recognize their unhealthy emotional reactions and develop communication skills that are softer and kinder, healing the pain and hurt in both spouses.
Looking to fix yourself, not your spouse: You have enough to work on. Be proactive and start with what you see that you can do to help make your marriage better. As my couples learn better communication skills and emotional responses, they are able to help each other more and find healthy answers to their problems. But each must be doing his or her part separately in order to have good success as the counseling progresses.
You don’t have to be on the brink of divorce to seek out marriage counseling. In fact, the sooner you start after noticing your marriage is stressed, the better. If you are going through a family crisis such as job loss or a sick child, getting help at that time can give you the resources you need to avoid major damage and make you much stronger, just when you need each other the most.
One last word of advice – if the first counselor you choose just doesn’t really click for you, try another. Your counselor should share your values and have a communication style and counseling approach that you feel comfortable with and that works for you. Don’t think “there’s no hope for my marriage!” just because one counselor wasn’t able to help.
If you’re in the New York City area, reach out to me and let’s see if I can help you strengthen your marriage.