Your marriage didn’t look like this when you started out. In the early years, you both couldn’t wait to get home from work to be together. Even dull chores such as grocery shopping or sorting the recycling seemed fun, as long as you were doing it side by side. Your evenings were filled with laughter and sharing. You were known in your friends’ circle as “the greatest couple”, a model to emulate. Secretly, you thought to yourself that yours was the best marriage of any of your friends’ and felt a tiny bit smug about it.
But now it’s rare that you look forward to opening the door after a long day at work. In fact, you seek excuses to not come home. You spend more time fighting that laughing, and no matter how much you beg, it seems like you always end up doing the recycling because he just can’t tear himself away from his Playstation to get the bottles to the curb in time for pick up. You haven’t thought that you deserve “the greatest couple” award in a long, long time.
The never thought about it ever before the idea of divorce fleetingly crosses your mind. The idea starts to visit a little bit more often. Are you seriously considering divorce? How about opening up to the possibility of marriage therapy (which is sometimes referred to as marriage counseling) before you start phoning lawyers? It may be that bringing in an expert therapist can help you get back to being that great couple that all your friends wanted to be. Maybe seeing a therapist will bring back that smug feeling again.
Why marriage therapy?
When you and your partner cannot make any headway in resolving even the smallest of conflicts, a marriage therapist can be beneficial. In the safety of her office, you will find a neutral, judgment-free zone where both of you can express yourselves and feel heard. If voices start to escalate, the marriage therapist will bring down the tone so that emotions stay in check and feelings are allowed to come out in a respectful neutral environment. It may be the first time and place in a long time that you each get to have your say without the other person walking out, or without raising your voice.
What are the signs that you should try therapy?
Your arguments go ‘round and ‘round, with no productive resolution ever being offered. You are tired of asking him to put away the toolbox and clean up the mess after he has repaired (finally!) that leaky faucet. He is tired of hearing you nag him to fix the leaky faucet. You suspect he doesn’t attend to the leaky faucet as a power play, a way to punish you for something. But you have no idea what that something is because you can never speak to each other in a civil manner anymore. And it isn’t just the leaky faucet. It is all sorts of things which are never resolved. “Every day it’s a new annoyance. Sometimes I find it amazing that I married Wayne at all,” Sherry, a 37-year-old interior decorator, remarked. “I simply can’t remember this happening in our first years together. But now…quite honestly, I don’t know how much more of these almost constant disagreements I can take.” Sherry‘s situation clearly sounds like seeing a marriage therapist with Wayne would benefit the marriage.
When you are in social situations, you belittle or denigrate each other, sometimes turning the mood of the party from light-hearted and fun to uncomfortable. You take advantage of the group setting to make small jabs towards your spouse. “I was only joking”, you might say. But not really. All the resentment you’ve been harboring secretly seems to come up easier when you are with others. The group or a friend sense that your relationship might be on the rocks, and may even say something in private to you. Rather than using your circle of friends to air your grievances, going to a marriage therapist would give you a space to speak honestly about what is bothering you, and not have to pretend you “were only joking”. It also spares you friends from discomfort and unease about taking sides in your public arguments.
You seek excuses to avoid sex
From the classic “not tonight honey, I’ve got a headache,” to the more modern avoidance-techniques like binge-watching The Wire, if your sex life is non-existent or unsatisfying to either or both of you, you might want to consult a marriage therapist. Sexual activity can be a barometer of marital happiness or unhappiness, so don’t ignore the diminished urge or absence of intimacy. This situation needs to be addressed if you want to reconnect and save the marriage.
You feel anger and contempt for your spouse
“I seem to be perpetually peeved at Graham. Things I used to find endearing, like the way he folds the towels—in quarters, not thirds, can you believe it?—now I find it really irritating,” Charlotte sighed. It is only human to get angry at times, but when you start feeling anger and contempt towards your spouse for extended periods of time, you should recognize that something has changed and that an objective professional may be able to help give you strategies to regain what was once a happy, mutually-satisfying marriage.
In the evenings, is one of you in front of the television and the other surfing the internet in the home office? Do you spend entire Saturdays weeding in the garden just so you can be by yourself, and not because you are bound and determined to win the “Best Garden in the ‘Hood” award? Do you retire early to read alone in your bedroom while your spouse is still reading his book in the living room? You tell yourself that it is perfectly normal to want some individual space, but living apart in the same house is a sign that you are losing your emotional connection. A marriage therapist can help get you back to sitting side-by-side on the sofa, laughing over reruns of “Friends” and discovering new programs to binge watch.
You are tempted to have an affair
You find yourself daydreaming about a colleague at work. You search for, find, and then a private message with old boyfriends on Facebook. “At first, I thought it was really cool how I reconnected with past loves and old friends on Facebook,” Suzy, 48, enthused. She continued, “My dad was in the Air Force so I was a military brat, constantly moving from base to base, state to state, even to Europe. I left friends in all those places, and when I was a teenager, it was boyfriends I left. Well, reconnecting with them has brought a lot of good memories back, and well…I’m beginning to think that I may want to meet one in particular…” her voice trailed off.
You start looking at dating sites
You have really begun investigating the sorts of differences these sites promise and may have even begun creating an online profile, just to see what’s out there. A vivacious brunette, Teresa, had never spent much time online preferring to play tennis in her free time. At 57, she had never met anyone online, but her husband, Carl, scarcely seemed the same person whom she had married, so long ago. She was thinking seriously that now might be the time to explore dating sites. “What do I have to lose at this point?” she asked, “I mean, we probably should go see a marriage therapist, but…” Luckily, Teresa and Carl did go see a marriage therapist, and just last May celebrated their silver anniversary.
You rationalize that looking at dating sites is just looking
Realistically, you are not going to go out every night with a new online instant friend. You even justify this type of behavior; after all, your husband is no longer making love to you (not that you are interested, either), or has not given you a compliment in months. A college Physics instructor, Becky, just was not getting along with Frank, her husband of seventeen years. “I know that he would like to work things out, but I just don’t know if he is the right person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I look at these guys on some of the dating sites and so many sounds so much better than Frank. I mean, I am just looking, but I am becoming mighty tempted.” Before you cross the line, seek help with a marriage therapist. After several sessions and some frank talk, she can objectively weigh in on whether or not your marriage can be saved. Those dating sites will always be out there; now is not the time to be using them to find your next spouse.
You or your spouse uses the silent treatment
Some people retreat into silence as a way of coping with circumstances that are less than optimal. This can be viewed as a form of aggression from either side, but it is definitely a sign that marriage therapy may be a very good idea. After all, healthy marriages thrive on communication, and the absence of spoken communication is a sign that all is not well in the marriage. Alison, who at 45 had been married for half her life, stated, “We are like ships passing in the night. Whole days will go by where we scarcely acknowledge each other, let alone have a real conversation. Sometimes I try to start a dialogue and he just gives monosyllabic answers. I am beginning to think of just throwing in the towel.” Two-way communication is a pillar of any healthy relationship. If you, like Alison, have retreated into silence, now is the time to see a marriage therapist.
You want to learn specific strategies for regaining the ‘ol marital mojo
A good marriage therapist can help you and your spouse rediscover the better versions of you; what attracted you both to each other in the first place. She can arm you with real strategies for working on and improving your marriage. A good marriage therapist will have a whole bag of skills she will teach you both to help improve your relationship and steer it back on course. Change in life and marriage is inevitable but the principles of a strong marriage–love, trust, good communication, mindfulness, and respect– are the foundations of a strong healthy marriage. A highly competent marriage therapist will help bring you both back to those important and necessary foundations.
The statistics are on your side
When you are debating about seeing a marriage therapist, think about the statistics for success, success being defined as a happy marriage. Statistics, unfortunately, are all over the board here. but more times than not, they are on your side. Some research sites success rates up to eighty percent while other statistics give lower figures.
Lastly, if you recognize yourself or aspects of yourself in any Teresa, Suzy or any of the other women here, you should seriously consider seeing a marriage therapist. What do you have to lose? A good marriage is a precious thing, and you deserve to have one. If a marriage therapist will help facilitate that, you owe it to yourself and your husband to seek one out.