Marital counselling was considered, not so long ago, as a place for separated couples or pre-divorce families, but this trend is changing, so much so that experts suggest even a pre-marital counseling.
There is always a tension at the dinner table, a feeling of apprehension, like everyone has something to say, but something is stopping them. Reva decided to ask Jay for one more time if they could try couples counseling, but he brushed it off saying, ‘Fights are common, this is how families are!’, and just her previous attempts, she tried convincing him by stating her unhappiness. Like usual, this ended in an argument with no consensus.
Marital counseling was considered as some kind of a last attempt by divorce courts for ‘unhappy’ couples to officially be stamped as ‘they tried but it did not happen’. It was considered, not so long ago, as a place for separated couples or pre-divorce families, but this trend is changing, so much so that experts suggest even a pre-marital counseling. Thus, it’s vital to describe and understand this concept of marital counseling. Despite all these changes in trends, sometimes it’s difficult when you are the one who wants counseling and not your spouse, as Dr. Kunst says, both the parties should be motivated and that will be the good time to step into therapy.
Initially, before attacking the shark, which is, in this case, a spouse who does not want marital counseling, see if you have followed the 2 steps:
Step 1: The Other Side
Antony let Brutus take the podium before himself in Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser. A good argument is healthy and often a necessity, during those times, letting your partner go first actually helps. This does not just mean nodding and giving you extra time to prepare for your turn. This is your time to actively listen, put yourself in their shoes, and once again listen because they have a point, not because you have to reply. This seems like an easy task, but in reality, even doing one of them is difficult. The core of letting your spouse explain why they do not want marital counseling will let them feel validated. At this point, they might feel they needn’t defend themselves. Often they can come with vague responses such as ‘I am not sure, this isn’t a big deal’ or even concrete reasons stating facts such as ‘it is very common, we don’t need a third person’. Firstly, try accepting all your spouse’s points, because, validation is the foundation.
If your partner wants to try other alternatives, there is no harm in giving it a wholehearted try, be it discussing with family, friends or trying a new method of problem-solving, because ultimately, it is good to understand that both of you want to help make the marriage better. Here, set an expectation limit, such as ‘let us give it a try’, but as soon as you start thinking it isn’t helping, mention it. In that way, you have given an equal hand in trying, and therefore your spouse might agree to your alternative- counseling.
Step 2: Be the Critique: Your side
Next step is to sit down with a paper and come up with all the points, emotional and logical that made you form a strong opinion that your marriage needs some aid. Here, try not to put umbrella phrases such as ‘my marriage is in shambles’ and comparisons like ‘We are not like we used to be’, because firstly umbrella terms hide a lot of meaningful content such as ‘I miss your daily morning hugs’ and secondly, as time passes relations change therefore comparing it with the past will lead you to nowhere in expressing. It is important to note that I used ‘opinion’ and not decision. During these times, you might want to sit by yourself although sharing these feelings of, ‘he/she does not understand me’ with someone can make you feel better, it is your marriage and only your thoughts and feelings matter, without being colored by others. Feel free to pen down all your points, be it small or big. Keep that sheet aside for a day and then get back to it. Now is the time to be the devil’s advocate, try countering your own point and see the stability of it. You might maybe even catch yourself starting to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and come with a, ‘Yes, his/her point is valid. There might be points such as, ‘I need peace’, ‘This small issue made me feel bad for a long time’, ‘I feel like you love me less now’, however petty, insignificant you feel these points might be, tell yourself they aren’t. They are your legit feelings and thoughts which have to be heard. So now prepare yourself to put forth these point to your spouse.
The above steps will help in understanding what is happening, and, to really spot a problem, the healthy argument is needed here. This does not mean taking opposite sides, this means to sit down and talk. Most of the time, the couples might not be able to point out to one particular reason or problem; instead, it can be a list. Therefore, it is necessary to go one after the other on the list rather than talking about all at once because that will just be overwhelming for both the couple.
You might wonder if your spouse if even ready to ‘talk’, but the truth is, they will want to talk but might not want to listen. Therefore, initially let your spouse talk about why they do not want couple’s counseling and just listen (which is basically step 1) and do not propose your side, you might be surprised by how they mostly ask ‘So what makes you think we need it?’. This generally happens because of ‘reciprocity’, wherein you have ‘let’ them talk, therefore now they are indebted to ‘let’ you talk. Wait till they get here, and then, now the tables have been turned, so start moving your coins.
The art of persuasion
Like reciprocity, there are other small persuasion skills which you can hone to assist you in the process of figuring out your marriage and the necessity of counseling, which are:
- Try using ‘we’, ‘us’, instead of you vs. me as this creates a rift bigger than it appears and also it has a ‘I blame you’ undertone to it sometimes.
- Take responsibility for your share of your problems, but do not insist that your spouse does the same, because, eventually they might, but you pushing them is going to make them more defensive about their stance.
- Tell them that more than what they might gain from the counseling, what they might lose if they do not, such as, ‘We might lose out on a chance to see if anything at all needs to be done’, as this makes them realize indirectly the pros of why you need counseling.
- You can take them to places or tell them stories from recent time to show and iterate your point, such as taking your spouse to your favorite restaurant to rekindle what the marriage is worth. This will create the urgency or need!
- Do not assume what they need, instead ask them, ‘This is what I feel we need, what do you think’, this way you make your point and expectations clear.
- Foot in the door- In this technique, you start off with something small, such as talking about hypothetical situations like ‘What will you tell the counseller’, and then make a bigger point such as, ‘Can we try telling this to a counselor maybe, just one session’. This just one session is a powerful tool.
- Door in the face- Sometimes, the opposite of the previous point work, such as first putting forth a big demand (‘You think we need couples therapy?’) and then later putting forth a smaller demand (‘Do you think we have some problems which we might not be able to handle?’), in this way there is an illusion created like you are taking a step down, but remember here also, the big demand should not be too big (such as, I think we need therapy) or it might backfire.
Apart from these, few general pointers why marriage counselors can be of help can paint a better picture. Marriage counseling is hard work with no real guarantee, therefore a leap of faith and risk is being taken. This is why it is crucial that both parties are motivated. It is also important to set a realistic timeline and expectation, the most important being ‘I am going to change him/her’ because all you can expect is to change yourself. The counsellor is a neutral party who is not going to take sides, in fact they might even help you figure out and discover certain toxic relationship patterns such as in a branch of therapy called family therapy, wherein certain complimentary patterns of behaviors exists, such as ‘She keeps nagging, so I stopped listening to her’, in which case no one can be blamed, but it simply is a cycle! They can also help rebuilding a problem-solving tool specific to your relationship and even shed new perspective.
Often marriages face stagnation because there might be longstanding problem solving ‘failure’, repeated patterns of problems, and most importantly, a lack of understanding if the other person that stems as a consequence of all these bundled problems. These might seem ‘normal’ but can be painful, for at least one spouse. So when one realizes it, it is important to do a reality check on the intensity of the problem with the spouse and bringing them on to the same page, because as every relationship is flawed, every relationship is worth giving a try!
Being the first to realize that you might need marital therapy, if you have any doubts and need more support, speak with our counselors on an anonymous and secure platform and work with your relationship counselor in addressing these issues at Askmile.com.