It can be hard to know what is “worthy” of professional help and of course, us writing “anything is worthy of marriage counseling” has a bit of a self-serving nature to it!
That said here are some common questions people ask.
We don’t fight much but I feel like something is missing. Is that a reason to seek marriage counseling?
Yes! What you can say to your spouse is something like, “Look honey. I feel like we’ve been in a slump and I hear it’s really normal and there are some easy ways to get out of it. A marriage counselor is used to this and will help us figure out what got us to this point and help us find a new spark in our marriage based on our personalities and styles.”
My spouse had an emotional affair though she won’t admit it. I’m unable to get through to her and she insists there is no problem. I find it terribly distracting and hard to feel close to her. Is this a reason to seek marriage counseling when she doesn’t even agree there is a problem?
Agreeing that something was an affair is not a requirement for entering marriage counseling. The immediate problem to be addressed is the current distance and conflict in the marriage. (No doubt your wife could add to your list of concerns.) Insisting your wife agree that she had an emotional affair makes you feel hopeless and it probably makes her feel attacked. Trust that the marriage counselor has the skills to help both of you unpack what happened in that relationship and how it affected your marriage.
So invite her to join you in marriage counseling by saying something like this: “I’ve been feeling distant from you, and I know that you are upset with me for my reactions to your relationship with the other guy. I am confused and upset right now, and I think we need help as a couple. Will you join me to going to marriage counseling where we can get help to sort all of this out and get back to feeling close to each other?” If she brings up your past insistence that she “confess” to an affair, back off from that insistence and say that you just want to repair things.
My husband’s mother is a handful. She creates a lot of fights between me and my husband. He doesn’t think marriage counseling would help because she is who she is. Is a difficult parent a reason to seek marriage counseling?
The problem in the marriage is never the in-law; it’s how the couple are together handling the in-law. She doesn’t create problems inside your marriage, even if she is stressful for your marriage. So marriage counseling can definitely help. It’s true we marriage therapists have no secret, magic wands to give parents a personality transplant. (It would be amazing or terrifying if we had that power!) What we would help you focus on in just not the difficult mother, but the challenges you two have in dealing with her, and then whose responsibility it is to do what. We can help you and your husband sort out what are reasonable requests from your mother in law, based on that family’s “culture,” and what is unreasonable because it interferes with your nuclear family’s culture. We also know about an iron law of family life: that when there is conflict in extended families, “Blood talks to blood.” If it turns out your husband has outsourced difficult conversations to you, we’d work on why that has happened and turn the tables so that he is finally dealing directly with his own mother. Marriage counselors are well versed in navigating these challenging waters.
Ever since we had our baby, our marriage has taken a nose dive. My wife says this is normal and things will improve, but I barely like her right now. She’s obsessed with our kid and mean to me, and I don’t see a light at the end of this tunnel. She doesn’t see how marriage counseling will help since babies are hard by nature. She doesn’t see how I could possibly feel ignored by her because I’m home more than ever… is having a baby a reason to seek marriage counseling?
She’s right that babies change a marriage. The fact that you’re feeling really neglected and she disagrees means you two have a difference in perspective about something vital to your relationship, which is always a useful reason to seek a third party marriage counselor. You both have gone through huge shifts and are living in different emotional zones. Seeing each other’s perspectives, even though that doesn’t magically make your baby sleep through the night or be any less demanding, can do wonders for your marriage. And a warning: it’s dangerous to just swallow your feelings and soldier on—too many marriages don’t turn around when the baby is older.