Couples therapy: What do you tell the kids?
You never thought you’d be here, but you and your husband are in therapy.
You know the kids must be aware you’ve been struggling because they’ve felt the tension, witnessed some of the arguments. So the question is, do you tell them you’re in counseling?
Only 19 percent of currently married couples have taken part in counseling and a recent study of divorcing couples found that nearly 75 percent of them never sought counseling before divorce. So if you're in the minority of couples who are going — or thinking of going — most experts agree that it's not something you should hide from your children. Especially because they already know something is up anyway.
Don't hide it... because they already know there are problems
Psychotherapist and parenting coach, Tamara Gold says, "There is nothing to be ashamed about and hiding this could even make it look worse."
Family psychotherapist Fran Walfish adds, "Most children of any age, toddlers to teens, are comforted and relieved to learn that their parents are in couples therapy after the kids have witnessed fighting, screaming and arguing. It is extremely anxiety provoking for kids to hear their parents fight."
Walfish continues, "Hour after hour kids come into my office, throw themselves onto my couch, and cry about how sad, worried, and frightened they feel about their mom and dad yelling in front of them. Kids feel relief when they learn their parents are working with a professional to improve their relationship and save their marriage."
"Kids like to understand things and when shut out they could make things much worse inside their own head," adds Gold.
So how much do you tell them?
Experts agree that you should talk to your child about counseling in an age-appropriate way. For younger children, Gold suggests, "We are going to someone who is helping Mommy and Daddy learn to use their words," and for older children, she suggests, "we care about each other greatly and want to help be a better Mom and Dad and this person we are going to is helping us do that."
"It should be short, simple, positive and calming. You can tell your child that there is no school for marriage so every couple has to learn ways to talk to each other and even ways to fight with each other in a positive way."
"If I did not care for your (mom or dad) I would not be going. And just like the best sports stars have coaches this person is coaching us to be the best partners we can be to each other."
All couples argue
Marriage and family therapist, Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill also adds an important point: "Ultimately we want our kids to understand about fighting and arguing and that some is normal for everyone. Also, it is good for them to see when Mommy and Daddy make up and hug!"
You're modeling good behavior
"Telling your kids that you are learning to understand and talk about your feelings with each other so you can have a happier and more loving home is something to be proud of and a wonderful thing to model," says Jan Harrell, Ph.D. "When my daughter was young, I would conclude fairy tales in this way, 'Then (the princess) married (the prince) and went to live at his castle. They learned to talk about their feelings and problems and they had a good life!'"