Although seeing a therapist doesn’t feel quite as shameful as it did 20 years ago, it still carries a powerful negative stigma. Many people worry about others in their social circle learning that they are in therapy, afraid it might suggest that they are deeply deficient in some way. This assumption is bad enough when we need help for ourselves, but when it gets in the way of building a healthy marriage, it can be truly disastrous. Here are some facts about marriage therapy that might surprise you.
It’s better not to wait
All marriages hit bumps in the road at some point. There are basic life transitions, such as the newlywed stage, the birth of a baby, empty nest syndrome and retirement. Then, there are major life disruptions, such as the death of a parent, the loss of a job or a serious illness.
Whether it’s basic or a major disruption, the balance of your marriage will be tested and stretched. While sometimes it’s OK to wait for things to get better by themselves, just one or two meetings with a qualified therapist early in the transition process might help you get on the same page, and reset as a couple to prepare for the next stage in your marriage.
Most marriage therapists say that the biggest challenge they face is that married couples wait too long to seek help — and at that point, great damage has been done to the integrity of the relationship. Don’t wait — if you are struggling to get back on track as a couple, seek help.
It doesn’t mean you’re getting divorced
Seeing a marriage therapist is not one step away from the divorce lawyer. This destructive view — that marriage therapy is your “last chance” as a couple — means that you are more likely to wait to seek help, often times waiting too long.
Marriage therapists work in many different ways. There are times when therapists need to work with a couple to begin structuring a separation or divorce, but many times therapists can work with the couple to repair the damage before it’s too late. Rather than think of marriage counseling as the last resort, consider it your first step in avoiding divorce.
It will build a stronger marital bond
When approached together, with the goal of improving your marriage, marriage therapy will help you and your husband build a stronger bond. A marriage therapist can help you identify your shared values and goals, which is critical in a world where everyday tasks tend to draw us apart rather than together.
No matter how strong your marriage is, day-to-day activities — like child care, house maintenance, work, family obligations, hobbies and more — will tend to distract you from the critical task of building your marital bond. Working with a therapist will help you focus on your marriage and realign with each other for a stronger union.
Not all therapists are the same
There is a huge range in the style of therapy you can receive. In addition to training, therapists bring individual methodologies and personalities to the mix. Working with a therapist who has been practicing for five years will be different from one who has been practicing for 20. Some therapists will delve deeply into your past histories, while others remain future focused.
It might feel like a lot of work, but it’s well worth the investment to interview a few therapists as a couple to get an idea of what it will be like to work with that person. A therapist who makes you feel safe might make your husband feel defensive — and vice versa. This is couples therapy, so it is critical that you find a therapist who makes both of you feel safe. Without a safe environment in which both of you feel you can say what you really feel, marriage therapy is unlikely to be successful.
Wherever you are in your marriage, therapy might be a helpful tool to consider in building the strength of your union and preventing future trouble.
Malini Bhatia is the founder of Marriage.com. Malini’s background in business and communications provided her with the knowledge to build a content company, but it is her deep passion in helping people develop and maintain positive relationships that inspired her to create Marriage.com. Malini lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 10 years and two daughters.