When my now-husband and I had been dating for roughly eight months, we went to couples therapy.
There was no huge issue that we needed to resolve or relationship-threatening problem on the horizon. We went, simply, because we wanted to check-in with each other on how each of us was doing and because we thought it would be easier to talk about things with a professional. It was, and continues to be, the best thing we do for our relationship.
Before that first appointment with our couples therapist, I remember feeling nervous. I had been in relationships in the past that probably could have used some therapy, but I’d never actually done it. I was fairly new to the concept of therapy myself — having spent most of my life not talking about mental health in the Latino household in which I grew up.
For the longest time, I ignored my lifelong feelings of excessive worrying, ruminating thoughts and irrational fears (what I would eventually come to know as generalized anxiety disorder) until I developed substance abuse disorder and lost my dream job shortly after turning 29. By the time I met my husband, I had gone through rehab, been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and had finally seen a therapist. Still, going to therapy as a new couple felt a little terrifying. There are so many stereotypes out there about couples needing therapy; about how that’s a last resort before breaking up. I wanted to believe in a fairy tale romance and our rom-com beginning.
My husband and I met exactly a week to the day after I moved back to my hometown in Florida in order to strengthen my recovery. It was April 2016. I had spent the previous summer in rehab and sober living, then went back to my home and work in New York City — where I had lived for the past 12 years — only to find that I had trouble handling sobriety there. Though I loved my therapist in NYC and my friends were incredibly supportive, I knew I needed to leave the city to stay sober, and so I did. It was only by a stroke of luck from the universe that I met Adam just after moving, fell in love. He even gave up alcohol in order to support my recovery.
“There are so many stereotypes out there about couples needing therapy; about how that’s a last resort before breaking up.”
The beginning of our love story felt like the scenes out of a movie: I had just moved to a town I hadn’t lived in since I was 18, he was just coming out of a rocky first marriage. We connected instantly, and we were saying “I love you” within a month followed by moving in together less than two months after meeting.
In every way I could imagine at the time, Adam was exactly the person I wanted to be with forever. He was extremely kind and relentlessly supportive, sweet and accommodating of all my issues and trauma; he even checked all of the boxes I thought I needed when I was single and looking for love in the big city. It was the easiest thing in the world to fall in love with him and start building a life together. Still, as we soon found out, the latter part is hard.
When we first walked into the mahogany-and-leather office of our couples therapist a few months before getting engaged, we were primarily there to do a check-in as a couple. Like every other couple on the planet, we had our disagreements — some small, some big, some probably closer to medium size — but nothing that was actually threatening our relationship. Still, given both of our rocky relationship past and the fact that Adam had previously only sought couples therapy when it was too late for a previous relationship, we wanted to have a conversation with a professional.
We had been living together (and working through our finances together) for six months. I remember that we had long decided that we wanted to get married and have a family someday, but we were not yet engaged — something that was causing me a good chunk of anxiety at the time. And we both had things we still wanted to figure out about ourselves, each other and as a couple, so going to couples therapy seemed like the right idea.
“There was just something about checking in with each other, with a professional, about the bigger things going on in our life that helped us grow and mature as a couple.”
There was just something about “checking in” with each other, with a professional, about the bigger things going on in our life that helped us grow and mature as a couple.
In our therapist’s office, we could talk about anything big and small. In that room, there was no judgment or late-night fights. Our therapist listened to each of us as we talked ― as we explained things out loud or communicated with each other about something that was more difficult to say outside of that office ― and helped us relate to each other.
They were never easy, those couples therapy sessions, but we both always walked away from them feeling like a stronger pair in a more solid partnership.
Around the same time that we started to see a couples therapist, each of us also made the decision to see an individual therapist. I knew that my issues with anxiety hadn’t gone away just because I was living in a new place, though they did seem dormant during those dopamine-heavy first few months of our relationship. My therapist helped me to continue to deal with my recovery and sobriety, figure out what role work-life balance played in my life, how to start setting boundaries with my family and learn ways to continue to manage my anxiety. These things are still something I work on daily, and in therapy, but they’ve helped me be a better person on my own and in my relationship.
It’s been about two and a half years since we first went to see a couples therapist, and a lot has changed yet stayed the same. We’re married now and planning to start a family soon. We’ve been through tragedies together but stayed strong. We’ve traveled tons, bought a house and continued to work on our individual therapy — all while still seeing our couples therapist.
“Sometimes, we go to couples therapy to work through something. Other times, it’s simply a tool to communicate more efficiently.”
Since beginning couples therapy, we go to “check-in” every few months. Typically, this means seeing our couples therapist every three weeks or so for a few months, depending on what it is we’re discussing on at the time. Right now, we’re going weekly for a month or two because we are coming to terms with two major life changes (having a baby soon, hopefully, and moving across the country in a couple of years) and felt that we needed a bit more than our usual appointments. But all of it is done in agreement with one another by prioritizing ourselves as individuals and as a team.
Sometimes, we go to couples therapy to work through something. Other times, it’s simply a tool to communicate more efficiently. We’ve been able to continue to build trust and build our relationship thanks to these occasional conversations in front of our therapist. Most recently, she complimented us on being able to communicate so efficiently, without anger or blame. And while I love getting gold stars in therapy (who doesn’t?), that’s not necessarily the point either; we go there specifically because we both feel that talking about some of the hard things, big or small, is that much easier and better when done in front of a professional, someone who’s a neutral party and there only to guide us to a better place.
It’s precisely having that neutral party to listen to us that has been incredibly helpful throughout our relationship. Like most women, I sometimes open up to friends about something that is stressing me out in my marriage, but those interactions are heavily one-sided. What I haven’t done is talk to more people about our couples therapy — but I’ve started to mention it, somewhat casually, to a few close friends.
The reactions are usually curious (because we seem like a solid couple, which we are) or appreciative (especially from women who wish their husbands, too, would join them in couples therapy). Telling people that this is just something we do as part of our overall relationship maintenance has been incredibly freeing and helped me to deal with some of my own internalized shame and stigma surrounding therapy. My husband is a very private person, so this isn’t something that he relates to, but it has certainly strengthened my resolve that couples therapy is crucial in love. No matter what anyone else says, we’re all a little fucked up. And it’s not always easy finding ways to live with someone else amid our own problems.
“Telling people that this is just something we do as part of our overall relationship maintenance has been incredibly freeing and destigmatizing.”
Early in mine and Adam’s relationship, a married friend told me something that has since stuck with me: “People say that marriage is hard work. And it is. But they leave out that love is supposed to be easy. Living with a person, making decisions and plans with a person, raising kids, buying a house, dealing with money and crises and everything else — that all takes work. But the love part — that’s easy. Loving them while all of the mess is going on is what keeps it from falling apart.”
That’s precisely why Adam and I first started going to therapy as a couple even though we didn’t really have anything catastrophic to work on. So many people don’t suggest or even set foot in a therapist’s office until things are really going downhill, and we never wanted to be those people.
The love part was easy for us, yes, but we acknowledged from the start that the rest of it would be hard work. Couples therapy, though scary at first because it feels like admitting failure on our part, has been part of the glue that holds us together. Checking in with my partner, talking about what’s going on in our lives (and in our heads), and discussing the “hard work” of marriage has been invaluable to us.
Marriage and couples therapy may be hard, but going through life with a supportive partner who is there with me in the good times and especially in the bad times… Well, that’s worth it.
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