'Tis the season for weddings and all the stress that comes with planning for the big day. But what happens when the day ends and the marriage really begins?
I've noticed that although we do a lot to prepare for the wedding ceremony, not as much effort is put into preparing for the actual marriage? However, mental health and marriage health are both important. You really can't have one without the other.
Traditionally, topics like these have been taboo and approached with some resistance, especially in the African American community. However, consider a few reasons why counseling is good for not only you, but your marriage as well.
1. Every marriage is different. There’s no one solution for every marriage.
"Marriage is the collision of two histories, but you have to be willing to create your own history." In other words, my husband Eric is used to doing things a certain way and I am used to doing things a certain way based on what we both witnessed and experienced in our homes while growing up.
Hence, we had to find a happy medium that could work for us.
Everyone has different annoyances and pet peeves. Some people go back and forth about the toilet seat, how the toilet paper roll is placed, or how to load the dishwasher. On the other hand, other couples may have more complicated concerns like communicating effectively, discussing finances, having children, or divvying up household or work responsibilities. It varies from couple to couple; not to mention, personalities differ from person to person.
Hence, what may work for another couple may not apply to or work for your relationship. As much as I love my in-loves (in-laws) and as much as I can learn from them having been married for 40+ years, I also understand that our marriage will not and cannot be exactly like theirs. Moreover, just because your parents or your family and friends never went to counseling doesn't mean it's not worth a try for you. Counseling can help couples discover and figure out methods and tools that can be applied specifically for your marriage.
2. Counseling can help prevent single issues from becoming marital issues.
Let's be honest – all of us have issues. At a conference a while back, I heard someone say, "You don't have marriage issues, you have single issues." Simply stated - what we go through affects how we go through life. So, sometimes the situation you're facing is really an underlying issue from your single life that's being projected onto your marriage and showing up as a marital issue.
For instance, some couples may think they're arguing about having children, when in actuality the husband or wife is actually hesitant or unsure about having children because their parents neglected them, or because of something that happened to them when they were a child. An argument that appears to be about finances or saving money could really be the residue from someone who is afraid of being broke because they experienced poverty and had to struggle most of their life, or they were never taught how to successfully manage their finances.
I remember early on when Eric and I used to have disagreements and major blow-outs. He thought abruptly leaving the house during an argument was totally acceptable. For him, it was a great way great way to manage his anger and refrain from saying something really hurtful ...so he thought. While his intentions appeared to be pure and logical, he didn't understand how it stirred up feelings of abandonment and actually showcased his lack of ability to control his anger. Hence, once we got to know each other more through counseling, he vowed to never do that again. Even now, when we have a disagreement, he may take some time alone and go to another room, but no longer will he just up and leave me.
Also, I used to get so mad if he didn't do something that he said he was going to do…no matter how big or small the task. However, through self-reflection and counseling as well, I realized that was really a trigger for me because my biological father (who was never a part of my life) would always do the same thing. It was as if my "dad" would make promises just to break them and in turn, break my heart. Hence, when Eric would do it, I often lashed out on him without even knowing the true root of my frustration. Now, I'm much more cognizant of it and try to be more mindful of how I react towards him.
By acknowledging things like this and being self-aware, you're better able to identify and manage certain triggers that you may not have been aware of previously. You're less likely to "major in the minor" because you're no longer allowing small things to turn into big arguments…which in turn, can result in a more peaceful, healthier, and happier marriage.
3. Counseling can serve as an unbiased mediator.
I remember when we first got married, neither one of us really knew how to handle confrontation. We knew how to communicate but we didn't always know how to communicate effectively. Eric has his way of dealing with things and I had my way, but those methods often clashed. Nevertheless, we had to learn how to talk to each other.
We've had to learn how to "fight fair" and what it means to fight harder for each other than against each other.
For example, we have embraced the idea that hitting below the belt with our words is unacceptable and something we will strive to avoid. Now, do we get it right all the time? Absolutely not, but I can honestly say that as we approach year eleven, we've come a long way compared to our first year.
Bringing in an unbiased, outside, trusted opinion can help calm the waters, as well as provide a different perspective and possible resolution that may not otherwise would have been considered.
4. Counseling is another form of self-care.
As women, we often fill up our calendars and schedules with things for everybody else, but then we forget about ourselves. Counseling can simply be another way to ensure we make time for our own self-care.
If you've ever received a physical massage, then you know just how great they feel. For me, counseling is similar because instead of getting a physical massage, it's like I'm getting a mental massage. Plus, you get to talk and share whatever you're thinking and feeling with someone other than your spouse (something I'm sure my spouse appreciates because I can talk a lot) and without feeling like you're going to be judged.
Counseling has truly been an eye-opening and healing experience for me personally, and I hope it's helped to make me an even better wife.
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