Do you notice everyone around you is in couples counseling? I do, because I’m a couples therapist. But even among people I meet casually, it seems everyone is going. The stigma of seeing a couples therapist will probably reverse soon.
So, why be left out of this trend? All around you, couples are improving their marriages, and you’re stuck in an uncommunicative, non-intimate, frustrating relationship that makes you feel bad five days out of seven.
“But,” you say, “I have only threatened divorce a handful of times, only under stress, or when we are fighting, which is only often and not constantly, and half of the threats are in my own head. We still have sex at least a couple times a month, and I like my partner at least half the time. Well, a third. What percentage is a fifth again?”
“Surely others,” you continue, “who are truly bad off, are the ones who need couples counseling. My spouse just needs to figure out how not to be such a jerk, and then we will be fine.”
To this series of defenses mixed with white lies and outright denial, I rejoinder, snappily: “If your leg was infected, would you wait for gangrene to set in before seeking medical attention? Do you think marriages improve as you get farther and farther away from the honeymoon period and have more stressors, some which crawl and destroy your home, to contend with?”
“How is your spouse going to realize to shape up when in fact they think it is you who needs to learn how to do so? How is it that you are smart and goal-oriented in other aspects of your life, yet when it comes to working to improve your own marriage, you put your head in the sand? Would you treat your own diabetes? Fill your own cavity? Why, then, do you hesitate before finding a couples therapist when you know in your heart that nothing is going to improve anytime soon without working on it?”
I say all that in one breath, impressively, and you fall silent, letting what you already know wash over you, like a warm bath of marital discontent brought into awareness, which is not as pleasant as it sounds, and it sounds terrible to begin with.
In case you are not yet convinced, I present the top 10 underpublicized reasons to seek couples counseling.
- You don’t communicate well. After conversations about difficult topics, you realize there has been no resolution. In fact, you feel worse. This pattern eventually leads to you feeling anxious and depressed whenever you fear there is a conversation on the horizon, and you avoid them altogether when possible, meaning you talk even less. Ironically, you still manage to fight the same amount.
- You don’t get along with each other’s families. Holidays are difficult because you are filled with anxiety about seeing your in-laws. Your spouse sides with them over you every time or pretends they do not hear their parents’ passive-aggressive comments toward you. The thought of seeing them, and the fight that will occur immediately afterwards, fills you with dread.
- You feel contempt toward your partner. You think, “She is home all day, why is the house a mess all the time?” or “He must just be an idiot.” You mock your partner in your head, or worse, to them, or worse still, to the kids.
- Your kids pretend there is no fighting going on when there is. This means they have become so acclimated to this atmosphere that another argument isn’t even novel to them. They will unconsciously be drawn to the same sort of dynamic, more likely than not, when it’s time for them to choose a mate.
- You don’t feel attracted to your spouse. Your spouse looks relatively similar to when you met, but you feel no physical excitement or even a pleasant desire to touch them when they are around. You wonder if this is due to age, hormones changing, or a pit of hatred in your stomach that roils around when you remember your list of resentments. Probably that last one.
- Your parenting philosophies don’t match up. Not in the way where you complement each other, but in the way where you shriek, “Why do I always have to be the bad guy?” or “Why can’t you just chill out, you’re going to make them anxious like you and your whole family.” Good times.
- You have nothing to talk about except the kids. You go on date night and realize you don’t know about his work and don’t care. You don’t know what she talks about with her friends and don’t care. It’s so much effort to ask and pay attention that you might as well just talk about your child’s exposure to hand, foot and mouth disease at preschool.
- You don’t respect your partner’s opinion. In response to most things that they say, you roll your eyes, internally or outright. You genuinely think you are a better, more intelligent or more commonsensical person, and you don’t take their opinion to heart, probably ever if you’re honest with yourself. Or they feel and act this way about you.
- You know nothing of what your partner thinks or feels all day. They don’t share it, and your questions go nowhere. You are left asking yourself if your partner even thinks or feels very deeply at all, or if they are a veritable emotional sock puppet. If the latter, you wonder how you can go on in this type of unfulfilling partnership.
- You love your partner, but something is just missing. You sighed with relief reading the nine previous entries, hoping I would not get to this one that describes more of what you feel. But I did. You don’t hate anything about your partner, but you don’t feel connected or close. You turn to best friends or your mom to share funny stories. You think about old boyfriends or girlfriends sometimes, or a lot. You know intellectually that your partner is a good person, but you’re Just Not Feeling It (either anymore, or sometimes you wonder if you ever did).
So, do any of these resonate with you? If not, I congratulate you on your first anniversary. Just kidding, I am sure some of you are at your second one. But for the rest of the world, why not take a marriage that is just okay and make it even better? And work on the one that is not okay at all.