Archive for July, 2010

In Part 1 of this blog, we touched on some of the more basic benefits of couples counseling, namely that it offers: 1) an objective and trained outside perspective into the couple’s issues and problems, and 2) a safe and supportive environment where couples and partners can be open and honest about their needs, feelings, and thoughts. Beyond that, couples counseling or marriage counseling will also help couples:

  1. Learn how to communicate better.  Couples will learn how to express their thoughts and feelings clearly and effectively, being assertive without being offensive.
  2. Learn how to be a better listener!  Couples will learn how to listen with respect and with an open mind.  In many instances, an individual within the couple unit will think they hear exactly what the other is saying, when in reality what they are hearing is distorted by their own assumptions or past arguments, resentments, and anger.  Becoming a better listener is the critical component of communication that will truly improve your relationship and your life.
  3. Learn to identify and reduce negative patterns they have developed.
  4. Learn how to respectfully disagree and how to resolve conflict in a healthy and productive manner.
  5. Identify and resolve past conflict (with the help, guidance, and mediation of their therapist) so they can stop arguing about the same issues over and over again.
  6. Rebuild the foundations of trust and honesty in the relationship.
  7. Develop a deeper understanding of their partner’s needs, as well as a deeper understanding of their own. With this new insight they will be able to validate and empathize with their partners feelings and meet them on an emotional level that goes beyond their spoken words.
  8. They will also learn that it is not realistic to expect that their needs will be met entirely through their couple relationship. It takes two healthy individuals to make a healthy and happy couple.
  9. Become more intimate – sexually and emotionally.
  10. If relevant, marriage counseling will help a couple learn how to agree on and implement unified parenting techniques and strategies.

In couples counseling, as with anything else in life, what you put into it is what you get out of it.  The couple’s therapist is not a miracle worker.  At the end of the day, it is up to each person within the couple unit to put in the work.  It is important that each of the partners own and work on their particular contribution to the problems at hand.  It is an exercise in futility to try to change anyone but oneself.

With the divorce rate as high as it is, it is surprising that less than 5% of divorcing couples seek marital counseling, according to renowned marriage and relationship expert Dr. John Gottman.  Most of us have at least witnessed a divorce – our parents went through it, our friends’ parents, our siblings, our own friends – and some of us have gone through one ourselves.  We are all well aware of the pain and heartache of divorce, especially if it involves children.  Divorce rips the two people’s lives apart and all the ties that bind them, often leaving each individual with regrets, feelings of failure, immense sadness because divorce is like a death – the death of the “us”, and, in many instances, a mistrust in marriage and relationships in general.  For children, it causes major upset in the balance of their lives, it tears their family apart, it can forever alter their perception of love and relationships and marriage, and they, too, are left with immense pain and sadness, often taking on fault for the failed relationship.  Given all this, it is a wonder why so few couples seek marriage counseling before opting for a divorce.  Many couples mistakenly believe that it’s no use, it won’t help – we don’t love each other anymore, we’re just too different now, there are irreconcilable differences, we don’t think we ever should have gotten married in the first place.  Also, there are many couples who believe it’s too late, which is similar to the first “it won’t help”, but with a slight difference because it implies it might have worked if the counseling was sought earlier on.

For those who think to themselves, “it’s too late,” there is a kernel of truth in that statement, in some cases at least.  The success rate of marriage counseling increases the earlier couples seek it.  Similar to the success rate of surviving cancer if it is detected and treated before it metastasizes to the rest of your body, diagnosing and treating an issue a couple is encountering before it takes over the whole relationship and does irrevocable damage, is important. However, a lower success rate does not mean no success rate, nothing is over until it’s over, and cancer does sometimes go into spontaneous remission.

For those who harbor the assumption “it won’t help” many would be surprised at how much it can.  Part 2 of this blog will delve deeper into the specific benefits of couples counseling, but at the core of it, seeing a marriage counselor will give a couple an outside perspective – an objective, trained outside perspective.  Often times couples that are having problems are so embroiled in their pain and anger, they’ve lost any ability to be objective.  Besides much needed objectivity, couples counseling also offers a safe space, free from the distractions and demands of everyday life, where couples can be open, honest, and real with each other.  In that kind of space, in that kind of environment, with that kind of perspective, some couples may indeed fall in love again, or come to realize that those “irreconcilable differences” were actually a series of miscommunications and negative patterns they had fallen into, or they may once again remember why it was and what it was that made them want to marry each other in the first place.  And maybe, if both partners give it an honest shot and truly try to make it work, it will prove to deepen their commitment to each other and make their relationship that much stronger.

Of course, there is always the chance it might not.  Sometimes, especially if therapy is sought late, the hurts run too deep for complete reconciliation.  And sometimes, people do get married for the wrong reasons and figure that out through the course of therapy.  And sometimes, one person or both people may be unwilling or unable to make the changes necessary to keep the marriage intact.  Even if this ends up being the case, it is still wise to seek couples counseling for the following reasons:  1) At the very least, it will help the divorce go smoother, often eliminating or alleviating some of the negative feelings that accompany divorce.  2) No one can ever know for sure if their marriage is salvageable until they try.  3) No one wants to live with regret.  If, at the end of the day, one can look oneself in the eye and honestly say, “I did all I could,” there will be no feelings of regret.  Sadness, yes; regret, no.  There is a clarity that comes to all situations with distance and time passed.  This clarity is what gave birth to the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20.”  It would be awful if, in that clarity, one were left with this thought: “If only, if only.”  If only is a terrible weight to carry.

This blog is going to be somewhat personal, probably the one and only, but I’ve learned never to say never.  The last blog TLC posted was on June 14, 2010, almost a month ago.  For those of you who check in regularly to see what we have posted, I am sorry that we have been silent for this long.

On June 14, 2010 at about 7 PM, I was in a pretty severe car accident.  It was 5 days before my wedding.  I was only a few minutes away from my house, on my way to pick up some extra groceries for my brother who would be staying with us that week before the wedding (he lives in Taiwan.)  I was in the middle of making a left hand turn, when I was hit on the driver’s side door by a car coming from my left.  I remember I saw the car a split second before impact and I screamed.  In that instant, I knew the car was going to hit me, I knew it was going to hit my door, and I knew it could be very bad – that I could die, or be severely hurt.  In the next instant, it was over.  The car had hit, I was in pain, but I was alive.

As it turned out, I had fractured my pelvis in three spots.  Of course, my first thoughts were about the wedding.  No bride-to-be wants to find herself in the hospital, with a fractured pelvis, just days before her wedding.  It was a difficult week, to say the least.  Physically, mentally and emotionally trying.  But, it was also a week of miracles.  The accident put a hyper-focus on all that is truly important:  the love of the man I was about to marry, the love we shared for each other, the love of our families who pulled together and made this wedding happen for us, the love of our friends who supported us through this difficult time.  On the day of the wedding, a day of beautiful blue skies and warm sun, I was able to walk (albeit slowly) down the aisle towards the man of my dreams, on the arm of the man who had so lovingly raised me, surrounded by all my friends and family – I truly felt like the luckiest woman in the world.  A family friend said to me, “This accident will forever be a part of your wedding – they are forever tied.”  In a strange way, I am glad.  I am glad because it will always remind me how precious life really is and it will help me to live it better.

I heard once that Buddhist monks are taught to carry death on their shoulder.  It sounds morbid, but I think it’s just a way to always remember how fragile life really is.  Not so that you walk around scared of dying all the time, but so that you remain grateful for every moment that you live.  It is so easy to get caught up in our everyday lives, to get caught up in the problems and issues that we face.  This is not to say that you can ignore your everyday life – you can’t and shouldn’t.  Nor is it to say that you should not face up and work through any problems or issues you encounter – you should and must.  It is often our challenges that, when faced openly and courageously, help us to become better people and enable us to get even more enjoyment out of life.  And everyday, “ordinary” life is where the miracles occur – we just need to be open to them.  If you really contemplate not being here tomorrow, then all of a sudden it is a miracle to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, the cool breeze as it blows through your hair, the hug of a loved one, the sound of your child’s voice, the feel of your body as it runs or hops or skips or jumps, a great cup of coffee, a wonderful conversation, a beautiful sunset.

I am grateful for my accident.  I am grateful because it has taught me to be grateful for my life.

I hope that anyone who reads this will take a moment to remember all they have to be grateful for.  I’ll consider it a wedding present. ;)

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