I love therapy. I’ve been in individual therapy for longer than I can remember. I openly talk about my therapy to everyone I connect with because I truly believe in it and know from experience the benefits of it. I am basically a walking therapy promoter. I have helped my friends overcome their hesitation to therapy and even helped them find a therapist. Most importantly, I helped get my spouse into therapy which in turn made him eventually open to couples therapy. Hallelujah!
While individual therapy has become so widely accepted and accessible now, which is wonderful, couples therapy does not seem to be picking up the same steam. But I think it should be. In my general experience, people still view couples therapy in a negative connotation. Most people assume when I say my husband and I are in therapy together that we are having issues. They even ask me as much. However, this is actually very far from the truth. We choose to do this work proactively. And here’s why.
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I believe every marriage (or relationship, we don’t need labels here) should use therapy and they should start early in the relationship- and way before they are on a brink of divorce or separation. I say this because very few people know what a healthy relationship is- how to communicate, how to support each other, how to treat one another. This is because there aren’t relationship and marriage classes in our education system- its too busy teaching us how to be “productive” citizens. So this means our education on relationship comes from the close relationships we see in our lives, i.e. our parents. If you were lucky, you had good teachers. Unfortunately, in my experiences, most people didn’t. Most of our parents didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship either, and to be fair a lot of it had to do with their own upbringing and societal pressures. Most of them grew up in a time when society wanted relationships to look and feel certain ways, regardless of the actual humans and their feelings involved (writing this as a millennial). They either didn’t know how to have a good relationship, or they lived in fear of trying to have the kind of relationship they wanted. Either way, let’s forgive them and focus on the solution, which is learning how to be in a healthy relationship now for ourselves. Enter, couples therapy.
My spouse and I started couples therapy before we even were married. We were still in our honeymoon phase. We were engaged, we were thriving in our new careers, we were young and had normal healthy sex lives. So why turn to therapy when everything is going great? Because I knew we both had issues we needed to work through. I knew, through my own therapy, these issues would come up. And I knew I loved my partner and wanted this to work. And for it to work, we had to do the work.
Couples therapy became an event for us, a date night, if you will.
I viewed couples therapy as a way to connect and grow more intimate. We treated it like a date night. We’d go to therapy and then binge pizza. And if you’ve ever been to therapy, after digging deep into your emotions and verbally vomiting them out, you are exhausted and hungry.
And that is how it worked for us. We would go and let it all out. I learned new things about him and he learned new things about me. I understood him in ways I never had before and he saw me in a new light. It was like falling in love all over again, the part where you are learning about someone for the first time in the beginning of a relationship. But even better because I was falling in love with the same person all over again. This is such a gift of therapy because once you’ve been in a relationship long enough you get comfortable and sometimes it’s difficult to reach deeper with your partner. There are a number of reasons this happens, not all negative, but for the most part they revolve around responsibilities that get heavy and take center stage and you forget to keep learning about each other. You forget or don’t have the energy to facilitate this open and deep communication. But with therapy we were able to bring that back into the relationship. And then reward ourselves with pizza which was truly a glorious event.
It was fascinating to see an unbiased opinion of our disagreements (ok, fights..) and learn my spouse’s underly feelings about them.
A good therapist will undoubtably point out that disagreements and fights take two people, i.e. both parties are some what at fault. Either intentionally or unintentionally. It was fascinating to see that basically all our fights were just a result of past hurtful experiences and our own self doubts. Hearing from my husband that he reacted certain ways to our disagreements from past fear and pain allowed me to release any anger I felt and replace it with compassion and empathy for him. This allowed us to move forward from our arguments rather than repeating them.
Now, some may think we could have just figured this out on our own. However, I disagree. One, we didn’t know how to communicate with each other when we were angry. And once the fight was over, we would just put a bandaid on the bullet hole. So we weren’t getting to the root cause or really getting any better. Just stuck in a circle. And maybe we would’ve gotten there, eventually. Or maybe we never would have and it would have driven us both to a dark place. Either way, resentment and hurt would have just built. I didn’t want that. Also, if I’d learned anything from therapy, it’s that it’s a lot easier to get some help than go at it alone. Work smarter, not harder, right? And the easiest way to work through your shit is with an unbiased professional. Someone who does not have emotional ties to either of you. Someone who can objectively see both sides and show you how to see things from both perspective as opposed to the usual one side (your own). This invites more compassion into your relationship and also helps you grow as an individual.
Couples therapy teaches you how to have a healthy relationship by recognizing and changing your negative unconscious relationship habits that were learned through your upbringing.
I did not want to repeat either of our parents relationships. And we saw both ends of the spectrum. One set of parents have married for a long time, but are miserable together. The other set went through multiple marriages and divorces, but were still miserable in all of them. See, I knew I wanted to do couples therapy because I didn’t like my parents marriage(s), and I didn’t like my spouse’s parents marriage. I was determined to make sure ours looked nothing like what we saw as children. However, when they say you turn into your parents, they aren’t lying. But that’s because that’s what was ingrained in you from your childhood. You subconsciously learn how to act, communicate, and interact with others from what you see during your developmental years. This means how your parents relationships worked is how you are going to subconsciously and automatically handle relationships- right, wrong, or indifferent. It’s also where you learn your expectations of what a marriage or relationship, should look like and the expectations you are unknowingly putting on your partner.
However, and thankfully, it does not have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. Both you and your partner should decide together what your relationship will look like and make sure it is respectful to both individuals. The best way to ensure this is to learn to recognize how you are showing up in your relationship. Uncovering your unconscious thought patterns and behaviors so you can shift them.
Of course, this is very much easier said than done, again because you have been hardwired with certain conditioning from your upbringing. It gets especially more challenging when you (likely) aren’t even aware of it. This is where couples therapy helps. It gives you the space and the tools to recognize these subconscious patterns and habits that do not serve your relationship. In doing this, it allows you to change said behaviors to develop new ones that are supportive of a healthy relationship. A relationship that is serving to you and your partner. One that is your own, not a repeat from your past conditioning.
And this is why you should start this journey sooner rather than later. First, It takes a lot of energy and time to unlearn behaviors. The earlier you start the work, the sooner you can start the shift. Second, the longer you wait or push things aside, the larger the anger/grief/resentment grows. This is no way to live. I know from personal experience that I let my own resentment grow far too long which resulted in me not truly living, not truly experiencing all that life (and love) had to offer me.
Finally, and most importantly remember that it takes two to have a relationship. You can’t be the only one that shows up. You both have to be willing. Therapy worked for us because bettering our relationship is what we both wanted. I couldn’t change my partner’s mind. I couldn’t make him go. It had to be his decision, just like it had to be mine.
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I hope this allows you to see couples therapy is a positive light. So if you and your partner want to get better together for yourselves and each other I humbly invite you to try out couples therapy. Its a chance to grow deeper with your partner, invite more compassion into your life, and learn to create new behaviors that will lead to a thriving relationship.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love and is republished here with permission from the author.
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