The other day, I was telling another professional that I work with couples, and her response was “why do people go for marriage counselling unless their relationship is ending?”. This response is not uncommon! According to John Gottman, it takes couples an average of six years before they will seek out help with a specific issue with their marriage. I wonder if your partner would let you go six years of dealing with a constant cough? Or would you let your spouse wait six years before confronting their best friend with something that is driving them apart?
You may think that marriage counselling is only for those times when an issue in your marriage is bad enough that you need to get some help. Or it’s the thing that you turn to when you feel your relationship is over, so that you can say you tried everything. But what if you looked for help three years into the issue, or even earlier? What would marriage counselling do for you then?
The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” fits well with marriage counselling. The idea of being proactive in your marriage has been proven to be three times more effective than intervention. Does the idea that it is easier to stop something from happening than it is to fix what is broken ring true as you think about your relationship?
Counsellors that are specifically trained to help couples have tools that can help you be proactive in different areas of your marriage. They can help you learn how to communicate better with your husband so that your conversations stay calm rather than escalating into fights. They have suggestions for how to change things in the bedroom so that your sex life can recover from the change that babies can bring to your relationship. They can help you identify what you are feeling so that it is easier for your partner to understand and empathize with you.
Think of marriage counselling as “grounding”. This is a term that has become common in counselling as it allows you to get yourself out of the past or present and focus on what is happening right now. Participating in marriage counselling before you have reached the point of distress can act in much the same way. You are uncomfortable because there is an issue building, but you aren’t consumed by it and having that be the focus of every interaction with your spouse like you might be in five years. This can help you address the area of conflict now in a way that helps you both have a clear perspective, take the appropriate share of responsibility in the topic, and work together to find resolution.
How many times have you said “you aren’t listening to me!”, or “I wish he understood what I am trying to say”? Marriage counselling can help you find ways to talk to each other so that you are actually hearing what your spouse is saying. The advantage to learning these skills earlier in your relationship can help you build a place where you feel safe, connected and heard so that when things do get tough, these skills are second-nature and help you weather your storms better.
Getting marriage counselling to help with your communication is like taking a multi-vitamin to support your body so that you don’t get sick, instead of waiting to get antibiotics each winter. A couples therapist can help you learn how to understand your partner as opposed to try to solve their problems. This can include skills such as calmly putting your feelings into words which can help both you and your spouse slow down and take the time to understand your needs in the moment and create an atmosphere of working together.
You can learn how to ask open-ended questions. These types of questions help your spouse feel that you are truly caring about them, as opposed to trying to solve the problem and either dismiss the underlying need or move on as quickly as possible.
A counsellor can also help you learn how to express validation, or empathy for your partner. Doing this means that you are able to communicate that you hear them, and their experience makes sense and is valid. It doesn’t mean that you have to totally agree with their conclusions, but that they might have a different perception of what has happened and that is okay.
Going to a marriage counsellor can help you to gain a different perspective on what you are working through in your marriage. The difference between going to your best friend or someone trained in this area, can be the difference between venting and getting practical, effective tools and advice.
The advantage to having a counsellor work with you is that they are not involved in your daily life, and do not have a prior relationship with either of you. They are able to sit and listen to you with a neutral mind, and look for different ways of approaching your difficult subject, or shedding light on something you might be missing in the midst of your emotion.
There is also the idea that just the act of showing up for a counselling appointment means that you both value your relationship enough to make it a priority in your time and finances. Setting aside an hour or more each week to focus on the most important relationship in your life shows your spouse that they are important to you. This can go a long way toward ensuring you’re not back there in six years and in distress.
If you are considering trying marriage counselling to practice prevention, learn how to communicate better, or get a different perspective, please contact Lisa Catallo at 778-549-6334 to book an appointment. I would love to help you build a relationship that is strong and thriving!