Being a couple’s therapist is a difficult job. It’s not that it’s hard to sit in other people’s pain or hear couples yell and fight over every little thing. That’s ok. The hardest part is when a couple comes in and it’s just too late for them. They put off counseling for months or years and by the time they finally decide to sit on my couch they are so hurt and traumatized by each other that they don’t have the heart to go through it anymore. The hardest part about being a couple’s therapist is knowing that I’m often a last resort.
So when do you need to start couple’s work to see real benefit? Let’s look at this.
BEFORE YOU GET MARRIED:
Premarital counseling is often something couples choose to do with their officiant or pastor. Some pastors even require four sessions to make sure everyone is ready to commit to marriage. This is a great idea. When I do Premarital Counseling we try and cover everything just to see how compatible a couple is and where they might find potential hardship or disagreements. More than that, I try to teach a couple two very important things: How to fight and how to hurt each other.
What?! Fighting is an important skill and you have to know how to go about it fairly and respectfully. Hurting each other is necessary in a relationship too. There will be times when your spouse upsets you and you have to talk about it. There will be times when your spouse does something that irritates you slightly and you need to let them know. You need to know how to talk to your spouse about complaints, fears and worries in a way that isn’t critical or contemptuous. Hurting each other without damaging each other is an important skill.
WHEN YOU START FEELING DISCONNECTED:
When you first fall in love the connection is powerful. You genuinely want to do everything together and things hardly annoy you at all. At some point in every relationship that changes. People want to pursue individual interests again. They want time to themselves and little things that used to be cute are real annoying. These little things and little desires can muddle up simple connections. You can find yourself growing defensive and impatient and critical with greater frequency. Then is a great time to come in to a couples counselor for a few sessions and have them help you wade through all of the things that are muddying the waters.
WHEN YOU FEEL REALLY TEMPTED TO SPY ON YOUR PARTNER:
You see their phone. They spend a lot of time on that phone. They are always typing something, or scrolling something or laughing at it. You hate that phone. What is even on there that is so interesting?!
Ok, please stop. You don’t have to spy on your partner to find something incriminating enough to prove you need counseling. The fact that you have lost trust in them to the extent that you have proves that they are either acting shady enough to not be trustworthy or you have issues that need to be addressed. Either way, put the phone down and just schedule an intake session. What you’re looking for does not exist on that phone. You want connection, you want intimacy. You don’t want to be the warden.
WHEN YOU EVEN CONTEMPLATE HAVING AN AFFAIR:
Listen, I get it. It’s easy to talk to that other person. They really listen to you. They’re mostly just your best friend. Occasionally, they creep into your fantasies but you would never. You just aren’t that kind of person. I’m telling you, it can happen to you.
Marriages can overcome infidelity. I bet my business on it daily. I’ve seen it happen. But infidelity rarely rarely happens for no reason. If you are even feeling more connected to someone other than your spouse and are at all attracted to them: something is going wrong in your marriage. Why wait until all that shit hits your fan and you have go through the pain of confession or getting caught? Infidelity is a painful, awful thing to overcome. Trust me.
If any of the situations sounded like you, maybe just mention it to your partner. Just tell them what you’re feeling and why you think counseling would help. You can’t force anyone into therapy, sadly. But sometimes expressing the desire to someone and telling them you feel disconnected can go a long way.
And hey, if you need therapy and you are in Aiken, you know who to call.