A lot of people tell me I have the “perfect” marriage. To them I say two things: 1.) There is no such thing as “perfect” and 2.) What you see is the result of a lot of work. Still, the thing that made our marriage what it is the most is the thing so many people won’t admit to doing at all. I have two words for them: marriage therapy.
Recently, a writer for Psychology Today made headlines for advocating for marriage therapy to become a new kind of date night. He says he keeps a list of restaurant names in his office so his clients can go out afterwards and make a full date night of it. It’s genius.
For many couples, more date nights is all they really need to get back on track. But the counseling. Don’t discount that, either. As far as I am concerned, I owe my strong, solid, amazing marriage to the counseling we did early on in our union.
We started counseling within our first year of marriage because outside forces were causing us enormous pain and stress. At the time, it was a make or break situation, but we were early enough in our marriage (and our lives) at age 25 to be pliable and open to her suggestions. Those hours we spent on our therapists couch every Wednesday night were not always fun. There was a lot of crying. A lot of hurt feelings. There were a lot of miscommunications and fights, too. But she gave us ways to talk to each other that have carried us through to our 12th anniversary and beyond.
We would go home at night and discuss the things we learned. Our homework was often simple. It was just to talk to one another in a less accusatory way. Even so, it was revolutionary. We learned how to speak to one another using words that didn’t hurt. We learned how to fight without fighting. And we learned compassion.
It was on her couch that I first cried when my husband told me a story about his childhood. He was bullied. My normal response to a story like that would be to blow it off or to make a joke or to mock him. I am a pretty tough person and empathy is not my strong point. But I remember hearing his story, not from the perspective my successful, 6’2″ husband, but from the little boy he had been when it happened. I could hear the frustration and the shame. And it broke my heart.
It was a breakthrough for me, to be sure. But it was also a breakthrough for us. We pride ourselves on being honest people to a fault. “Do you look fat in that dress? Why yes, you do,” my husband might tell me. I want that kind of honesty. I crave it.
On the other hand, good marriages aren’t built just on extreme honesty. There has to be compassion, too.
For two years, we were in counseling. The longer went, the better our marriage became. I feel so lucky that we started early. A decade later, I know our marriage is built on an incredibly solid foundation. And the truth is, since that early rough patch, our marriage has been almost entirely solid. We have three kids now and a whole lot more stress, but that foundation makes us sure of one another. We know exactly how to talk to each other and also how to recognize the signs when things start to veer off course.
There is no stigma to marriage counseling. It’s the wedding present every newlywed couple should receive on their wedding day.