Let’s get really real.
People aren’t excited, entertaining the idea of paying a stranger for help with the most intimate relationship of their life. This uncertainty, fear, dread, anxiety, or the dismissing you feel or your partner feels is totally okay.
We want to shift your thinking in a way that gives you confidence and clarity about your next steps.
It’s possible your next step is NOT marriage counseling.
You’ve heard the cliché about how hard relationships are. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t already well aware. The question in front of you now is to ask why are relationships hard and what to do about them when they hit a rough patch.
To add more stress, what do you do if you and your partner aren’t even on the same page about the nature and fix for your disagreements, let alone about how to get unstuck?
To untangle the mess you may be in, we’re going to have to drill down without actually getting a chance to talk to you live. Our goal is for you to get a clearer sense of a next step, if you take these questions seriously. And if you do ponder this blog post seriously, it make take you a few days or even weeks to really find their answers inside yourself. Reread as often as you need.
A warning before we dive in. Relationship advice is a blessing or a curse. It’s all in how you use it.
What won’t work is to show your resistant spouse this article and say, “See? I told you.”
Do us a favor and don’t do that. You’ll just create a new stuck problem!
Question 1: Does my partner agree we’re stuck?
That seems really obvious to you, but “stuck” is all relative. You could be stuck trying to solve a complex algebra problem for a math class. That doesn’t mean you are going to go hire a math tutor. Eventually you’ll figure it out or, you’ll just skip that question and lose a point on the homework. Same thing happens in marriages. One persons stuck is another persons slight hiccup. It doesn’t bother them and is definitely nothing to go throw energy, money and time at.
Next question: What is the frequency of being stuck & its perceived intensity for both of you?
Sometimes a spouse will agree the fighting or stuckness sucks, but they focus on the times when you aren’t actively stuck or actively fighting, or they dismiss the problem saying it’s just rare enough to ignore. Another common belief is, “all couples fight about this, it isn’t anything to go to a shrink for!”
Here we run into pain tolerance and perception. You may be a wreck for a week after a huge fight, but your partner has moved on quickly. On the other hand maybe you move on fast but feel stuck with THEIR week long wreckage after a fight and you wish they could move on as fast as you do.
If frequency or intensity is high, but your partner gets what she or he wants and you don’t, then we’re doubling down on where you may be stuck. This makes a bigger “getting unstuck” resolution a threat… you’re essentially saying I am not sure you should get your way and I want a bigger conversation about our sucky stuckness. If your partner has less overall pain about it all, you’ve got a hard case to make to pursue a different approach. Keep reading. We’re here to help you.
Third Question: Does the stuckness feel like a win-lose solution?
The reality is a lot of conflict isn’t just about feelings and being smooth using “I feel” statements. It’s about the dirty dishes and about how exactly to discipline the kids and whether to buy something expensive. Part of being stuck is that getting unstuck is threatening partly because the “winner” today doesn’t want to “lose”.
Often both people feel like they are the loser and the other is the winner. This fight is happening every day across the world! (Advanced hint at “doing the hard work” of getting unstuck: the win-lose mindset goes away EVEN IF your behaviors stay the same… ie, your partner still buys expensive stuff or you continue to be late coming home for dinner every night. Why? Keep reading.)
The final question before we get into the marriage counseling specifics is: What happens for you if things never change?
This is a loaded question but an important one. You need to be clear with your own relationship to the stuckness. Often someone stuck for years has a tipping point where they consider bringing in a professional or feel a stronger need.
What’s happened? How can your spouse know that this isn’t just the 1,283nd time you have felt stuck, but now is different. And now is the time to get help.
These pivotal moments can happen from seemingly unrelated events. Your best friend shares her desire to get divorce and it makes you think deeper about your love and your desire to improve things in your marriage. It may be you lose someone close to you and see life is short and the stuckness feels conquerable for greater contentment. Someone on a tv show, or a coworker brings something up and it gave you a new way to look at your stuckness and now you have some new hope.
Bringing your spouse into these unrelated conversations or epiphanies will help him or her better understand the why now vs why not last year or in the future. (We tend to get paranoid if we don’t see we didn’t do something extra bad but rather, our spouse has some renewed belief that things could be better.)
Reading this far along here, we assume you believe counseling could possibly help or you are trying to see if it might. Your partner however, may feel strongly that you’ll always be stuck, nothing will change, and the goal is to come to peace with the stuckness, not go spend money on a professional.
Adding to the confusion is a lot of really bad advice online including outright lies that marriage counseling rarely works (marriage counseling improves 70% of couples and the other 30% tend to come in uncertain if they want to even stay married. These we called mixed agenda couples and recommend a specialized service called Discernment Counseling.)
You or your spouse may very likely be misunderstanding what the role of marriage counseling is. We get it! It’s like going to a financial planner saying we’re stuck because we have no money. We’d love to invest and grow a retirement, but we don’t even have money to invest. Marriage counseling can feel very similar when couples first go. It’s normal and okay. Some may call it a leap of faith, not seeing the end result, not even really believing it, but wanting to believe it on some level and being open to the journey.
Crucial question: Do I truly believe a professional will be an aid to getting us unstuck or do I secretly hope to hire a professional to tell my spouse they’re wrong and I’m right?
(Hint: if you KNOW you’re right, that’s a great sign marriage counseling may be very impactful and important for the ongoing health of the marriage.)
This is important. To admit your stuck requires… and listen because yes, I’m talking to YOU, that you have not only a role in the being stuck, but you personally have hard internal, behavioral, thought-changing work to get unstuck. You will have to hear things you haven’t heard before from your partner, dig deeper into your own emotional crud, and be willing to be heard on a whole new level, first from the professional who can hear you more clearly than your partner, then from your spouse. There is no guarantee your spouse can go that deep but, can you? Often the person seeking counseling is confident they’ve tried everything and now need an outside person to make it clear that everything that could be done has been done and it’s now their partners turn to change. The success of your stuckness depends on how much you’re willing to be challenged and willing to change. The paradox is real and it’s why finding the best trained, pro-commitment marriage counselor is essential to your ultimate goal of a smoother marriage. Think about it. Even if you feel that you’re right and your partner is right (and your partner agrees she or he is right), a marriage counselor embraces that and will do the heavy lifting to rebalance the stuckness to undo the win-lose mindset.
What do you think happens in marriage counseling and how do you believe the sessions will go in relieving your pain and stuckness?
Your vision and beliefs matter a lot for how you come to see this as a viable solution. These views are also important for your spouse to get in your head and begin to see how embracing a stranger is not a personal attack, or a stigmatizing judgement against your marriage, nor is it about stripping away your personalities and being remade into someone you’re not. (Insert all those cheesey beach scenes with couples holding hands… nevermind your spouse hates the beach and you are an urban person. We apologize on behalf of our field of marriage counseling. Some of us get really drippy because we love to see healthy marriages. But trust us, there is no perfect marriage and perfect way to be, nor will we try to turn you into such a Hallmark card.)
The reality is you don’t know how it will actually go but your hope and optimism play a big role in the success you can have. This is true for anyone mastering a skill – there is a stuck point and hiring an expert can make things unstuck faster, more smoothly, while honoring the strengths that got you up to the stuck point. The very last thing a coach, consultant, or counselor wants to do is to put you down. Their number one job is to listen, learn, and align with your goals, dreams and hopes. This is true for you AND your spouse.
Hopefully the above questions got you thinking more deeply. There is a lot more we have to share on our website and in material you may chose to download. We suggest your next step be to download our “Nervous About Marriage Counseling” material. We have course material available for those who start there.