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Don’t Wait for the Breaking Point to Get Marriage Counseling

Black and white photo of couple walking into distance along trail holding hands Often, people seeking marriage counseling come to my office at their breaking point. They’ve been struggling in their marriage for months, years, or even decades, and are making a last-ditch effort to save it. This kind of situation fills me with regret—I so wish that these folks would have come in sooner!

Marriage counseling should not be thought of as a last resort. It is not like an amputation, which you do only after every other possible option has been exhausted—in fact, it’s much cheaper and less painful! Marital therapy should instead be seen in the same light as physical therapy: it’s something you do when you are experiencing pain and need healing. If your body/relationship is perfectly healthy, you might not need it. But if there has been some wound or perhaps decline in functioning over an extended period, therapy is a vital tool for getting it back on track.

With physical therapy, we do not consider a person who seeks it to be weak or incapable; unless you are a physical therapist yourself, you are unlikely to know exactly what the problem is or what exercises will best rectify it. So, too, is the case in marital therapy—why should we expect everyone to know how to handle all the problems that can come up in a marriage? Your spouse is not you. They grew up in a different environment, with a different family, perhaps in a different culture, and therefore they have different expectations, behaviors, and perspectives than you. Even if you are extremely self-aware, it is different to deeply know someone else, and then to understand the dynamics between you that form your relationship. That’s why an expert is needed—a marriage therapist.

Sometimes people explain that they wanted to “try to deal with it on our own first.” That’s like saying you broke your foot and you want to try to deal with that on your own.

Sometimes people explain that they wanted to “try to deal with it on our own first.” That’s like saying you broke your foot and you want to try to deal with that on your own. Certainly, there are people who do this—walk on a painful foot for weeks because they don’t want to appear “weak” or spend money on a doctor’s visit—but after weeks of walking on an injured foot, things are typically no better (and often worse) for having neglected it for so long. Similarly, people frequently avoid taking steps to get professional help with their marital problems, thinking it makes them weak to need such help, or out of reluctance to pay for potential solutions. The result is more damage to the already ailing relationship.

The truth is it is no more a sign of weakness to seek marriage counseling than it is to go get a cast on a broken bone. No person is an island, as they say—human beings are not designed to make it through life on their own. Anyone who pretends otherwise may be fooling themselves. I need a doctor when I’m sick, I need a guide when I’m lost, I need a friend when I’m lonely—and I need a therapist when my emotional life is not as it should be. There is no shame in that. The real shame is to let a relationship wither because of a refusal to seek help. It’s just unnecessary.

If you feel your relationship is not where you want it to be, I urge you to seek counseling before you get to the breaking point. Marriage counselors can help, and if you have a good one, it shouldn’t be nearly as painful as setting a broken bone. Do yourself and your partner a favor—reach out for help before things get worse.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Josie

    February 13th, 2017 at 11:29 AM

    We started seeing a counselor together a few months ago not because there was anything that specifically was wrong but just that things were feeling a little stale for both of us. It has been a real wake up call for the two of us and has brought us sooo much closer together. We actually look forward to going because we want to know what fun little activity we will get to do for the week. If anything it has made us WANT to do things together again. Very much worth it!

  • Kelly

    February 14th, 2017 at 2:57 PM

    I’m a therapist and I really like seeing couples who are in a place like that. It’s a neat opportunity for those couples able to take it!

  • Josie

    February 15th, 2017 at 11:47 AM

    I can honestly say that this is one of the best experiences that we have had the chance to take together in a very long time. It has sort of been like getting to know this brand new person all over again because after some time together I think that we had actually gotten worse about communicating, not because we didn’t want to share with each other but we always let other things get in the way. Believe me I have told all of my friends that if you are looking to get the spark back then this is the best place to start!

  • Sara

    February 18th, 2017 at 5:48 PM

    But what can you do if one person doesnt believe in counseling? Unfortunately theres no marriage drug to take 😢

  • Raffi Bilek

    February 18th, 2017 at 8:06 PM

    There’s actually a lot you can do. Going to a couples counselor on your own can pave the way for changes in your relationship, even if you’re the only one participating. Also, a clever counselor can find a way to get your spouse into the office as well (as I have done in the past) – no drugs necessary!

  • Rue

    February 20th, 2017 at 7:44 AM

    My suspicion would be that most people wait far too long to go to counseling
    and then by the time that they actually get there
    communication has broken down so intolerably that it makes it difficult to resolve any issues

  • Raffi Bilek

    February 20th, 2017 at 1:07 PM

    Yup. That’s why I advocate for people to seek counseling BEFORE that point!

  • Zequek E

    February 22nd, 2017 at 7:56 AM

    I love the comparison used to explain how marriage counseling is like physical therapy. It really emphasizes the point about why it’s important not to wait. I imagine that it would help since I’ve heard that the root of the problem usually starts from something simple and grows over time.

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