“Are you doing pre-marital counseling?”
The bride nodded.
“Do you have plans for post-marital counseling?”
The poor bride cocked her head and looked at me in confusion as if to say: “Post-marital counseling?! But we’re fine!”
Marriage counseling isn’t just for the hurting, the almost-divorced, the dysfunctional. Marriage counseling is for everyone.
A veteran wife, our newly engaged friend, and me. Sitting on the sunny Starbucks patio, I soaked up vitamin D and sunburn while we spent two hours chatting all things marriage. Many years married, not-yet-married, and four years married. We swapped reading lists and wedding planning tips, we celebrated God’s humour and irony in writing our unique love stories, we swooned over wedding dresses and flower plans. Typical girl talk turned to heart talk.
My friend, a veteran wife, said it so well: “I wish it were more of a cultural norm that if you were married you regularly seek counseling. In the same way as if you go to see a doctor regularly because you’re human. Even if nothing seems wrong, it’s just the responsible thing to do.”
Like a preemptive annual physical, I suggest to you: if you’re married, you should be in counseling. Today’s culture stigmatizes counseling, views it only for the troubled, and tends to see it as a last resort. (I know that’s how I saw it, too; going to counseling felt like we were admitting failure.) However, like vitamins for the body, preventative counseling is helpful for a healthy marriage. (I fact-checked my assumptions with a quick, anecdotal browse of prominent Christian resources and found an echo of this stigmatized assumption: crisis counseling and premarital counseling are praised, maintenance counseling isn’t even mentioned.)
When we made our decision to go to counseling, I was nervous about sharing that part of our story; I didn’t want to be judged or ridiculed. However, the most common reaction I heard was beautifully surprising to me: “I am so glad you’re going so early in your marriage. I wish we had gone twenty years ago, too.” From not one but four ladies I heard this, all whom have been married for at least twenty years.
Why aren’t you in marriage counseling?
My husband and I ignored the advice of my friend for three and a half years. Our myriad of reasons not to do marriage counseling boiled down into four excuses, all of which were pretty lame in light of what marriage counseling has (already!) done for the quality of our marriage.
- We don’t have enough time.While excusing ourselves from seeking counsel, we’d find ourselves in front of Netflix at least once a week enjoying dinner-and-movie on the couch. Is there time to watch a Netflix marathon? Then there’s time to seek wisdom.
- We don’t have enough money. We never asked at our church if there was a ministry partnership, never researched prices in our area, never asked for a discount. Yes, marriage counseling can be pricey but it’s an investment into our marriage and there are resources to help the cost.
- We are afraid to be real. Embarrassment and fear held us back the most. Embarrassed to ask for help. Fearful that we would be judged. The stigma against counseling was deeply en-grained but we quickly learned that a professional is highly trained and will not judge or embarrass or break confidence.
- We thought we were fine. Being told “this is as good as it gets” would have made for a pointless appointment. However, letting someone speak Truth into our lives has started to forge a deeper, more beautiful marriage than I thought possible.
Once we made it past the hurdle of our own excuses and once God plopped a counselor in our path, we were sitting in our first appointment within a week. Nervous and excited, scared and skeptical, we spent an hour in the presence of wisdom, practicing our communication skills, and preparing for life. Our marriage started improving the day after our first session with our counselor. Armed with that confirmation, we can celebrate the investment we make into our marriage.
The presence of such wisdom in our life is invaluable. Our counselor is a man who understands men and a husband who has 40 years of professional and personal experience understanding women. He can be a translator for us when necessary, he speaks wisdom into our world from his extensive experience, he cares for us and encourages us as he invests into us. No judgment, no shame, just a presence in our life. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
Practicing our communication skills with a trusted, trained professional gives us the opportunity to practice listening and asking questions and talking while we’re in his office. I’m a glibly chatty woman who assumed communication was the least of my worries; my skills are deepening and taking those techniques back home with us allows for improved conversations. Our counselor does very little talking, but he asks questions that help us communicate clearly and know the type of information that we forget to (or don’t know to) share.
Having a counselor has been practical preparation for life. In our first meeting, he suggested two practices we should be cultivating daily: happy camper dating and four moments that matter. These homework assignments are basic skills that we know to do but forgot in the bustle of life. Intentional interactions each day and structured dating plans have filtered back into our schedules and have worked to deepen our relationship.
Just as you wouldn’t wait until you have 30 years of un-diagnosed diseases before going to the doctor (think of all the complications and related troubles surviving that long without proper treatment!), I’m glad I did.