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Does Couples Therapy Work? What You Need To Know

Marriage

'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.

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"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.

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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.

Featured image by Getty Images

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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