What to Expect: There are three important objectives in marriage counseling:
1. We will allow a safe space for each of you to put simple words on what you're feeling and going through without blame, talking down to or criticizing each other.
2. We want to give you a chance to educate us, each expressing your own point of view, on how you argue or handle conflicts. Every couple fights differently and most of the time what they're fighting about isn't the real argument. Some deeper hurt or frustration usually gets triggered by the way they express themselves if something is bothering them. For example:
You said were going to help me shop and you didn't because your just don't give a damn about me.
You never even bothered to tell me you couldn't come to mom's dinner and made me look like an idiot!
- I'm supposed to jump with joy when you clean the kitchen and take out the garbage. The last time you bothered was over a month ago.
In each of the above accusations, only the angry feelings get expressed. The deeper emotional need of the complaining partner is never touched. Even worse, much of the time couples sweep their real emotional needs under the rug until one just blows up at the other.
Early in our sessions, the goal will be to identify what is triggering the hurt. Then move on to re-frame statements so that partners can express what they are truly feeling while the other partner can listen without feeling defensive. For example, each of the above accusations could be rephrased in the following manner:
I was so exhausted when I left work and it was really important for me to have you there, not so much to help me lug the groceries, but just for you to be there supporting me.
I really missed you at dinner and actually, so did my mother. I felt silly when I did not know how to tell her why you were not there.
- I was so grateful when you cleaned the kitchen and took out the garbage. It made me feel that you cared about me. I'm wondering if we can talk more about regularly sharing other household chores?
Learning to communicate in more effective ways is the cornerstone to a healthy marriage and long-term relationship. In session, we will identify and practice healthier ways of speaking to one another.
3. We may also want to know your stories, starting with a good narrative of how you first met and fell in love. There's always a good story here! Then we want to hear about all the things that happened to you before you met: where you were born and raised; what you remember it was like growing up; the ideas and values you learned from your parents and grandparents; your emotional relationships with your siblings; how close you felt to your mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc. In short, all the important things you remember happened to you before you both met and fell in love.
Getting a rich narrative of your life stories before you fell in love is very important because unconsciously we may pick lovers whom we feel will give us some of the emotional nourishment and validation we missed out on as we grew up. Identifying unhealthy patterns and replacing them with healthier ones will set the stage for you to gain greater emotional intimacy and help you to love each other smarter.