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6 Telling Signs You and Your Spouse Need Marriage Counseling

  • Heather Caliri
6 Telling Signs You and Your Spouse Need Marriage Counseling

About six years ago, I learned about a terrible trauma that had happened to a family member when I was a child. The revelation shook me to my core.

Weeks after I found out about the secret, I thought, Should I go get therapy?

I decided not to bother, assuming I could manage on my own. Deep down, I assumed I didn’t need it. (I did.)

Looking back, I still can’t believe how easily I talked myself out of getting some help with my grief. But I think most of us are in the same boat. In our lives, and our marriages, many of us wait for things to be “bad enough” to justify therapy—never actually giving ourselves permission to seek help.

Thankfully, a few years after talking myself out of therapy, I changed my mind. Over the next two years, I went to sessions regularly—first by myself, then with my husband.

Here are six reasons why your marriage might need some therapy right now.

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1. Your Marriage Is a Happy One (Yup, Even A Happy Marriage Can Improve)

1. Your Marriage Is a Happy One (Yup, Even A Happy Marriage Can Improve)

My friend Paula and her husband decided to see a therapist to help their parenting, not their marriage. But once there, they realized the counseling was increasing their intimacy. They signed up for more sessions.

In other words, this couple wasn’t in crisis. They were not fighting every day. There was no hitting, screaming, or passive aggression.

Instead, there were two happily married people who knew that even good marriages can improve.

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What the Bible Says about the Benefits of Seeking Counsel

What the Bible Says about the Benefits of Seeking Counsel

Biblically speaking, it’s not the terrible leaders and wayward people that accept counselors—it’s the healthy ones.

Healthy people intentionally listen, accept responsibility, and learn new things.

In addition, couples that are already functioning well have more bandwidth to put what they learn in therapy into practice. They can set goals, talk more calmly about differences, and build on an already-healthy foundation, rather than simply fighting the fire of the latest crisis.

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2. You Look at Your Marriage and Think, “It’s Good Enough”

2. You Look at Your Marriage and Think, “It’s Good Enough”

My biggest mistake in evaluating whether I needed marital therapy was thinking that if my marriage was pretty good, I didn’t need to ask more questions. Deciding my marriage was “good” ignored the fact that I often struggled to ask for what I needed from my husband, to repent of ways I’d hurt him, or even to understand how I’d hurt him. When we did fight, it often felt like we were on two separate islands, unable to really hear what the other person was saying.

Even the best marriages are hard, and I was not a perfect wife.

Rather than looking at your marriage and saying, Good enough!, you might look at yourself. Do you wish to grow as a partner, friend, communicator, and spouse? That is a great reason to seek counsel.

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3. You Don’t Think Your Spouse Will Ever Change, So What’s the Point of Counseling?

3. You Don’t Think Your Spouse Will Ever Change, So What’s the Point of Counseling?

I always mention marital therapy when I hear from unhappily married people. And what I hear over and over is “Well, my spouse isn’t going to change, so why bother?”

It makes me want to weep.

Your spouse is imperfect. That’s a fact, not an excuse to give up. If your spouse is imperfect, you must learn to love them well despite those imperfections. Passive toleration of sin and toxicity isn’t love. It’s despair.

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You Can Benefit From Counseling Even If Your Spouse Doesn’t Change

You Can Benefit From Counseling Even If Your Spouse Doesn’t Change

Here are all the ways marriage counseling could benefit you, even if your spouse never changes:

 

  • You could learn to communicate clearly and without anger.
  • You could figure out if your spouse was controlling, manipulative, or passive-aggressive—and how to respond healthily if they are.
  • You could develop appropriate boundaries.
  • You could learn ways to encourage and celebrate them.
  • You could learn to forgive them for the ways they hurt you, and repent of your own imperfections.
  • And if your spouse balks at couples therapy, solo therapy can provide help and support for you to love well.

If your spouse is imperfect, writing them off is not loving. Love is an active, intentional engagement. Therapy can help you love your imperfect spouse with Christ’s fierce power. 

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Naomi Hebert

4. Your Family Backgrounds Are Impacting More than You Realize

4. Your Family Backgrounds Are Impacting More than You Realize

If there’s addiction, emotional abuse, divorce, or poor communication skills in your past, you’ll bring those hurts into your current relationship. Since all families of origin are imperfect, that pretty much includes everyone. You don’t need to have deep trauma in your past to justify the cost of a few appointments.

People also often choose spouses that resemble parents with whom we have a troubled relationship. The issues you faced as a child very much affect how you relate to your spouse. Figuring out how to resolve those deep hurts is a worthy subject for therapy.

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5. Parenting Has Taken a Toll on Your Marriage

5. Parenting Has Taken a Toll on Your Marriage

I had the easiest first pregnancy and labor of anyone I know. I didn’t vomit once from morning sickness, and my labor lasted all of three hours. Even so, the first year of parenthood sent seismic shocks through my marriage.

The transition to parenting challenged my relationship with my husband in ways I did not anticipate at all, but which would not have surprised any therapist. According to psychologist Matthew D Johnson, “researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples.”

If parenthood has taken a toll on your marriage, you’re not alone. Things can get better if you seek intentional help.

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6. Your Communication Skills Are Lacking

6. Your Communication Skills Are Lacking

Part of my hesitation in seeking couples’ therapy was this: I wasn’t clear about what exactly, a therapist would do. It surprised me that we talked mostly about talking in therapy.

It turns out that healthy communication is hard. I was shocked to realize even if I felt my communication was clear, my husband often misinterpreted things—and vice-versa. Listening well is a learned skill, as is communicating clearly.

Learning how to listen intentionally to each other not only helped heal misunderstandings and hurt from the past, it helps us to navigate current disagreements. After learning specific tools and techniques to listen and speak with love, we now can find common ground more easily.

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Could Your Marriage Benefit from Seeing a Counselor?

Could Your Marriage Benefit from Seeing a Counselor?

Just like with my family trauma, I thought my husband and I didn’t really “need” marital therapy. Compared to friends who had considered separation or divorce, my marriage looked positively blissful. We were all good, right?

But after our first session, I thought, Why did we wait so long?

Before I got counseling, I thought there had to be something terribly wrong for therapy to be justified. But I was absolutely, 100% wrong.

It’s wonderful to seek counsel in a marital crisis, but even better to do it before things get that bad.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock/VasylDolmatov

Marriage Is a Spiritual Practice, We All Need Help Learning How to Do It Well

Marriage Is a Spiritual Practice, We All Need Help Learning How to Do It Well

For a long time, I thought my marriage just was, like a giant boulder or a canyon. Like me, it was imperfect, end of story.

But marriages, like people and faith, are growing, changing things. Through God’s power, wise counsel, and new skills, we can, in Paul’s words in Romans 12:2, “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

Many of us assume that we’re stuck with the personalities and traits we’re born with. But like Paul’s transformation on the Damascus road, people and relationships are malleable. Sometimes that’s through God’s almighty miracles, but more often, it’s through slow, everyday practices. Even Paul’s conversion was not only instantaneous, but also a years-long transformation into brave apostle and evangelist. It both happened overnight and took a very long time.

Just as prayer, Bible study, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines can contribute to that “renewing of our minds,” so wise counsel can too. As psychologist Carol Dweck asserts in her book, Mindset, trusting that we can gain new skills in our lives (and our marriages) means we’ll be more likely to do the necessary work to seek wholeness and improvement.

Your marriage might be fine right now—but it could get better. Don’t find any excuse for putting off that joyful possibility.

Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, “Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.

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