It is inevitable that a marriage will encounter bumps. Heck, if you are human, you’ve experienced conflict. Misunderstandings happen, words you can’t take back are blurted, or there are just some hurts that seem irreparable. Sometimes, a helping hand like a marriage counselor is the best resource a couple can use. Believe me, I know: marriage counseling is exactly what my marriage needed.
I married a pastor. No, we are not exempt from conflict in our marriage. In fact, being in a pastoral marriage inevitably puts our relationship in the public eye, which can add pressure that may negatively affect us. My husband and I had our differences prior to getting married, but it felt like they were magnified after we said, “I do.” Work/life balance, budgeting habits, culture clashes, family issues… big or small, they started weighing on us to the point that we were burning out.
What to do?
We thought about it, talked to trusted people in our lives, and prayed about it. But counseling wasn’t something we jumped at. It seemed taboo. But why? Why did marriage counseling feel like a last resort?
Hollywood sure knows how to make fun of it
Sitcoms, movies and memes have spoofed marriage counseling for years. I know I’ve guffawed my way through a comedy episode where the couple on the rocks went to a less-than-impressive marriage counselor. Some scenes stereotype marriage counseling as too “mushy” or “feely.” As silly or skewed as the entertainment world makes it look, it is one of the most life-changing and self-discovering experiences my husband and I have had.
Vulnerability takes guts
Brené Brown, renowned expert on vulnerability, says vulnerability is having the courage to show up even when you can’t control the outcome. To go before a counselor and reveal your apprehensions, weaknesses, frustrations or fears about your marriage can be terrifying. I speak for myself when I say that sometimes, I just don’t want to be seen a certain way, either. But it takes a huge amount of love, bravery, and humility to be vulnerable. One of the best things we did when our marriage needed some support was get someone neutral to help. Even though vulnerability is scary and sometimes odd, it opens up the door to reconciliation.
“Everything has a price.” My dad says that a lot, and he’s not wrong! Marriage support can be expensive. One thing my husband and I do is include “counseling” in our budget. We put some money aside each quarter for when we think a counseling session would be helpful. We do have to skimp on other things like eating out or shopping (guilty), but we know our “why.”
If saving some money is not possible, did you know you can search for low-cost or even free marriage counseling? A lot of organizations in town serve our community by providing low-cost marriage counseling. Many churches offer free marriage counseling, too. After we did some digging, we found the counseling group that we felt comfortable going to.
“Just keep pushing through”
Sometimes this approach works, other times it’s not the best course of action. It’s totally ok to try and work things out prior to seeking professional help, but sometimes our strength wanes and we just don’t have it in us to keep going. An insecurity that my husband and I encountered was the idea that we didn’t have the capacity to resolve the issues on our own. But this pretense of “inability” just got in the way of a solution that could potentially work. That’s when we decided to take that step and reach out.
“God will get you through it”
This is a phrase that often echoes when we find ourselves in a marriage where ministry is the way of life. Too many times, though, my husband and I found ourselves stewarding our mental, physical or emotional health poorly because we were hyper focused on the spiritual. A pervasive, but suppressed thought is that the practicalities of life are irrelevant to our spiritual life; that cannot be further from the truth.
God cares about the whole me. So what my husband and I did was adjust our sails with that realization. We better understood how our faith worked through our marital conflict so we could march on.
In the end
We went to counseling over the course of a year. Sure there were some awkward moments, and yes we had to reschedule some of the sessions because life happened, but we made it a priority. Sometimes, we even did virtual sessions! Other times, we each drove from our jobs for a lunchtime session. It took some work, but each time we came out of the counseling room, it was like we could breathe easier, and our mountain wasn’t as high as it once seemed. It may not be the same experience for each marriage, but it stopped being taboo when we went for it. We were thankful for the resource.
Our marriage counselor met us where we were without judgment, prejudices, or a pointing finger. We learned great ways to have better arguments (totally a thing), how to respect one another’s viewpoints and to work as a team. We practiced more forgiveness, validating one another, and building each other up. Today, we practice the relationship and conversation strategies we learned even outside of counseling sessions! We now consider marriage counseling a pivotal part of our marriage success.