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When is the right time for marriage therapy?


Can I be direct and honest? The right time is most likely right now.

 

Let me paint for you a sad reality which I’m confronted with all too frequently.

The couple walks into my office quiet and emotionally distant. They engage me in brief pleasantries, but their spirit is tired. One of them releases a deep and mournful sigh, slowly losing their ability to fend of the hopelessness that begins to settle upon them. Their fight and passion has long since been exhausted. Protected by numbness the wife talks about disappointments and long lost dreams. The husband sits in still resentment over unrealized visions of a future together.

As the sad and tragic reality takes shape before me, I ask myself, “Is it just too late? Have they waited too long? Has too much harm already been done?” I try to offer hope, to invite them to deeper experiences of themselves and the other, to even heighten the emotional experience to elicit any emotional response.  I give them opportunity to turn towards their spouse, to authentically credit their experience and make a claim for something greater than what they have known. But the walls are so strong, the defenses so effective, and the scars run so deep.

 

Please, do not wait until you are this couple.

If that couple sounds like you, please hear me when I say this; not all hope is lost! Believe it or not couples have come back from being closer to divorce than even this. But the road is long and difficult.  Find some professional help and start the journey of reconciling your marriage.

For each couple that I see in this state, I could think of numerous moments in the years prior that should have brought them into marriage therapy. Here are a few of the signs you may encounter along the way that are a good indication that it is time to seek out professional marriage counseling.

If either of you have uttered the phase, “I think we need to go to counseling.” Nearly every one of the aforementioned couples that I’ve worked with told me that at some point earlier in their marriage their spouse asked them to go to counseling, and they refused. Unfortunately this stereotype often holds true, It is typically the guy that won’t come in. I get it, I’ve been to therapy myself. It’s uncomfortable, it’s out of your normal comfort zone, you’ll have to open up to a stranger about your difficulties, you’re afraid of being judged or blamed. But any therapist worth their wage knows all of this, and will actively try to make you feel comfortable. They will be mindful of your uneasiness, and they shouldn’t take sides or place unfair blame. And if you don’t trust this next statement, ask someone who has been through it; divorce is a whole lot more painful and uncomfortable than counseling.

When you begin to carry resentment towards your spouse. John Gottman’s research has shown that of the Four Horsemen, or the four predictors of divorce, that Resentment is the most devastating to a marriage. When resentment is present in a marriage there is an 84% chance of divorce. So when arguments begin to turn into character assassinations and annoying habits become cannon fodder, it’s probably time.

When dreams are replaced by nightmares. We all enter marriage with great hopes, dreams and expectations of a bright and beautiful future. Those dreams should be nurtured, shared, pruned and grown. There may be sessions in every marriage which the dreams seem dim, or difficult to imagine them becoming reality. But for some marriages they can eventually cease to exist. Or even worse they may be replaced by nightmares. A constant preoccupation with what is wrong and failing begins to fill your thoughts and dreams, both waking and sleeping. It’s time to revive and restore the hope and vision you once held for your future together.

You’ve just had your first kid. Or your second. OK, you’ve had anything to do with having, or trying to have, children. Children are wonderful. They bring us delight and can add to our sense of purpose and fulfillment. Children can cause us to desire to be greater and better people. They can also drive you crazy, and can deal a deathblow to an already struggling marriage. It may not be immediate, it may even take a few decades, but it can be fatal. If there were unresolved difficulties in the marriage before your first child, they most certainly did not disappear after the birth. You owe it to yourself, and to your child’s future, to address those issues now. Maybe you navigated the first child fairly unscathed, but you’re beginning to feel a little distant, or like your role as lover is being consumed by your role as parent. Or possibly things were going swimmingly until the second or third child pushed your limits beyond what you could balance. Maybe it’s been a long time since you looked at your spouse and thought of him in that sexy suit and tie, or of her flirtatious little smirk. Or possibly you’ve agonized and wrestled with the pain of an infant loss or infertility; not yet being able to fulfill that deepest and most profound longing that you each carry, most often in secret and silent ways. Not everyone who has had, or struggles to have, children will need marriage therapy. But at each of these transition points in your family it is an important question to ask and discern wisely. There is a reason for the statistical rise in divorce after the first child and after the children begin to launch into adulthood; you loose your self as lover and are consumed with your self as parent.

Now that you know when the right time to seek counseling can be, remember that not all hope is lost. Counseling can be an enlightening experience for couples and individuals, so take the chance while you can! You’ll be one step closer to a happier and healthier life.

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