4 Things I Learned in Couples Counseling (And it only took three counselors spread over 15 years with two wives.)

I’m not a marriage or couples counselor, but I’ll play one on the internet. And why not? Over a 15-year time span, I saw three therapists with two different spouses. I know what you’re thinking. It must be me. Well, about the only thing my first and second wives have in common is me. So, everything else considered, you might be right. I’m somewhat of a jackass. But I’m a lovable jackass with his heart in the right place. I cry at the end of Field of Dreams every time Ray Kinsella has a catch with his dad. I take naps with my dog. I do the dishes after my wife cooks. I bought a minivan when I did NOT want one, only because my wife wanted it, a Dodge Caravan. Hey, I’m doing my best over here.

Many couples, at some point during their marriage, consider some type of couples counseling. Perhaps it’s a last-ditch effort to salvage a relationship, or maybe they know that a seasoned, impartial professional is the only person that can help them sort through serious issues. There are probably a million reasons people go to this type of therapy, but I wouldn’t know. Like I said, I’m not a counselor.

What lessons could I possibly share that would be useful to anyone thinking about marriage counseling? Well, just a few. Here are the tough lessons and nifty observations reaped from hours of sitting in a chair in an office with someone who is pissed at you while money leaves your pocket.

1. Jealousy is a stinky perfume

If your partner is the “jealous type”, good luck with that. Jealousy is simply a means of control, and it’s an emotional beating. One person in the relationship gets jealous. They bitch, complain, and then throw a hundred questions at you. Nothing blows-up into something. The next thing you know, you’re walking on eggshells because a person from work texted you a question, or a someone out in the world was polite to you. Listen, if you give your spouse a legitimate reason to be jealous, that’s one thing. Otherwise, what jealous types don’t get is this: Why would anyone ever want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with them? If your wife really wants to leave you for another man, the truth is that there is not a whole lot you can do about it. Jealousy shows a person’s insecurities like a stinky perfume.

2. Don’t go see a therapist if you’ve already decided to leave your marriage

As strange as it sounds, it is often a brave thing to leave a marriage. So, if you’ve made up your mind about leaving, forget the optics of going through marriage counseling in an attempt to be noble. Dragging a spouse through that is horrible and unfair. Imagine if one person’s agenda during therapy is trying to salvage a marriage, while the other person is going so they can say they went. If you want your family and friends to think you did everything you could to save your marriage…so you could leave it with less guilt, and that’s why you are going to marriage counseling, well, you are awful.

3. My counselor sucks!

Sometimes a marriage counselor calls you out on your bullshit. Oh, they’ll do it in a nice way and are very diplomatic about it, but every person that goes to marriage counseling has made mistakes. Humans are good at screwing up. It’s not uncommon for a person to feel that their therapist is “ganging up on them”, or “taking the other person’s side” too much. If that happens, get ready. The aggrieved party with certainly conclude that the therapist is no good, doesn’t know what they are talking about, or just plain “sucks”. If you are the person thinking that, well, it should serve as a wake-up call. That is, if you’re picking up the phone.

4. Fight Fair

Every couple argues. Disagrees. Fights. Whatever you call them, confrontations sometimes get ugly. And they shouldn’t. Why do we treat the people we supposedly love the most in a way we wouldn’t treat a total stranger? Married couples must learn to disagree about things, mostly the little things mind you, and talk about them in a way that is respectful and productive. If a person can’t master that skill, a marriage may not be worth it. How do you fight fair? Easier said than done when emotions run high, but here goes.

  • No yelling or name calling. You’re not on the grammar school playground, and don’t say things you can’t take back.
  • Don’t harp on the past. Argue in the present or the discussion will deteriorate into chaos.
  • Explain how you feel. No one wants to hurt their spouse’s feeling on purpose. And although your feelings are always valid, sometimes you should ask yourself if your feelings are reasonable given the circumstances.
  • Say you’re sorry…and remind your spouse you love them. Fights don’t last forever and tomorrow is another day.

Like I said, I am not a marriage counselor. But I am a guy that wants to do better. And the lessons I learned from my past marriage counselors are legit. I’m a better husband now, probably a better person, too. If you are in a strained relationship, and both partners really want to shoot for the long haul, a little couples therapy may be a good idea. Sometimes love isn’t always enough.

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