I can’t even tell you when it started. It wasn’t like I woke up next to my wife and thought, “Nope, I don’t love her anymore.” The distance that had built between us was gradual. Our lives are busy, and somewhere along the way, we lost each other. Our sex life had dried up, and our conversations were more like board meetings outlining an agenda than partners building a relationship.
There was no “other woman” or “other man.” Neither of us had cheated on the other – if I’m honest, we cheated ourselves. Instead of a relationship built on mutual trust and respect, on intimacy and inside jokes, we’d allowed ourselves to become little more than roommates.
With a distance as wide as the ocean between us, we had no idea how to navigate back to each other. When my wife suggested counselling, I resisted. What was the point? Repairing our marriage felt like raising the dead. But I decided we owed it to ourselves to try.
Our counsellor listened, guided, challenged, and encouraged us. Instead of complacency, we discovered communication. That communication allowed us to unpack years of unspoken hurt and opened the door to intimacy and trust like we never had before. It’s no exaggeration to say that counselling saved our marriage.
A healthy relationship is one in which each party feels valued, respected, cherished, and knows that their partner is there for them and has their back. And while it’s valuable to bring different strengths to the relationship, the couple’s values should be somewhat congruent so they can live in harmony.
Marriage counselling can provide the framework for a healthy marriage so it can be the very best possible. It’s not just intended to fix a broken marriage, so the sooner a couple can seek it out (even at the outset), the better foundation they’ll lay to build upon!
In the event that something isn’t working out, marriage counselling allows the couple to change the context, so it doesn’t become a recurring issue. Just addressing the symptoms without addressing the cause is only a temporary fix.
In marriage counselling, the couple is the client, not either party – if either party needs to work through their own stuff that’s impacting the relationship, they should seek their own counselling with another counsellor (which can happen before or alongside couples counselling, depending upon what the couple counsellor suggests).
Marriage counselling is about working on the marriage – it may take some time to identify what needs to change and how to go about it. Using marriage counselling as crisis intervention can help navigate through the crisis but can’t really change the marriage itself.
Both parties need to be committed to the process of marriage counselling, since it’s about the marriage. But if one party isn’t willing to come in, the other party can seek counselling to bring about positive changes that can impact the marriage itself.
A marriage counsellor isn’t a parent who’ll intervene during arguments. They can only provide unbiased guidance – to do that effectively, they can’t be expected to hold secrets for either party or take sides.
Invest in couple’s intensives, marital counselling, establishing common interests and having fun together, and being really present to each other. Some suggestions:
The male and female brains are constructed quite differently, leading to various gender differences. If we don’t understand those when we address each other, it’s like speaking two different languages. Herewith, the top ten differences, which apply to most but by no means all people.
1. Why We Communicate: Women believe in rapport talk, men in report talk – i.e. women talk to connect, men to convey information.
2. How We Communicate: Women use twice as many words, but men have half their attention span, so they often get thrown off by anything other than straight talk.
3. What We Communicate About: Being action-oriented, guys like to talk about sports, performance, and fixing things; being people-centred, women’s discussions center around relationships, philosophies, and offering support.
4. How Directly We Communicate: When a woman says, “Would you like to do such and such” what she means is “Let’s do such and such”; men equate the former to someone asking their opinion and the latter to direct instruction, leading to many misunderstandings.
5. What Drives Us: Men are goal-oriented, women process-oriented.
6. How We Focus: The female brain is made for multi-tasking, the male brain for a sharper focus on one thing at a time.
7. How We Express Love: Women show love by saying the right words, men by doing things for someone they love.
8. How We Deal With Our Problems: When women have a problem, they feel better just talking about it; men rarely feel better talking about their problems and so prefer to be left alone.
9. How We Feel About Offers For Help: Even when men are stuck in a jam, unless they ask for help, they don’t want it; women like the offer to help, but don’t appreciate being told what to do when they’re just venting.
10. How We Handle Our Mistakes: When either party makes a mistake, women tend to apologize way too much, men hardly at all.
Start by asking yourself: In your heart of hearts, do you believe that he or she is the only one for you? If your answer is, “I don’t know,” what you may actually be saying is that they aren’t “the one” but instead, the “one for now.” If the answer is “Yes,” but you still feel lost, it may be time to speak with a marriage counsellor. Whatever you do, don’t wait. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away any more than ignoring a car alarm makes it stop.
Step 1: Define your problem and solution. You need to take the time to define what bothers you and why it bothers you. You’re fighting about milk being left on the counter overnight, but in reality, financial pressures are killing you.
Step 2: State clearly what you would like to be different in a positive, concrete, and a specific way.
Step 3: Make time to talk. Don’t start a conversation on the way out the door, when your partner is drifting off to sleep, or as soon as they walk in the door after work. Don’t ambush and don’t attack. Use language like “I feel” rather than “You never/always.” Stay engaged in the conversation and stay on point – don’t get distracted and allow the conversation to devolve into a blame game or shouting match. If things get ugly, agree to take a time out and discuss things later when you’re both calm.
Step 4: Make a game plan and be specific. If your fights are over chores, make a list of who is responsible for what. If one partner feels neglected, be intentional about date night. Even if you don’t agree on the details, approaching a problem with an attitude of “At least try it,” moves you in the right direction.
Step 5: Keep checking in with each other. Problems are rarely solved by a single action and hurt feelings are rarely soothed by a single conversation. Follow up with your partner demonstrates you’re invested in making long-term changes to sustain the marriage. Thank them for sticking it out and making an effort to repair the relationship.
Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson
7 Principles of Making Marriages Work by Dr. John Gottman
30 Day Marriage Makeover by Dr. Doug Weiss
What Makes Love Last by Dr. Gottman
Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs