The other day, I received a Facebook message from a beautiful young woman who is about to be married. In FOUR days! I met her shortly after we started attending Calvary Chapel back in 2001. She was in Jr. High and Rob was one of her Youth teachers. I've seen her grow into a beautiful woman who loves God. So, when she asked me to answer some questions about Marriage counseling, I felt honored. Without going into too much detail (seeing as it is for a school paper and I doubt they wanted an in depth five thousand page manual) this is what I sent her. It's a little choppy, what with five children needing this or that. You all understand, I'm sure.
A little background might help, too.
We were young when we married, however, we were not pregnant. We married in 1992 when I was 17 and my husband was 21. My mother had to sign for the marriage license because I was not yet 18. We didn’t marry under the best of circumstances and I doubt I would want my own son or daughter to start off the way we did. Basically, we were two young kids playing house. With that said....
Do you think you're marriage would have survived without professional help?
Absolutely not!! I also have to admit that we both did not know God. We were both LDS and were struggling with a religion neither one of us understood. After many years of living as “Jack Mormon’s” we decided it was high time we figured out what we had professed to believe. In 2000, we decided to take the full missionary lessons again and walked away even more confused. In 2001, our lives changed. We walked away from Religion and found relationships with God. We began fellowshipping at Calvary Chapel and our marriage (though not perfect) has not seen the depths of darkness it once did. I am grateful that we had the counseling when we needed it. I do not think we would have made it to 2001 without our willingness to be open with each other and a stranger who just wanted to see a marriage work. Whatever the sacrifice, I am grateful we both fought hard for our marriage!
Our first counseling session was in 1997. We were on the verge of divorce and we fought all the time. Our #1 problem was that we did not know how to communicate with each other without making each other defensive. We were selfish and did not know how to relate with one another. We were two separate people trying to live together, and raise three small children, but what’s worse is that we struggled through our first years of marriage in a society where we throw spouses away like trash. Your friends and family will say to “dump him/her”, “You can do better!”, “We told you it wouldn’t work out!”. How can one even desire to seek out help for their own marriage when some of the people closest to them may not feel your marriage is worth the struggle/pain/hurt/confusion/time?
We had all the basics. I loved my husband with a passion, I longed for him, wanted to bear his children, grow old with him, I wanted to be with him every moment of the day and I couldn’t imagine life without him. I remember, during a very hard part of our marriage, my husband even said, “We can live off love.” Haha. I, a female, naturally desired security and he, an adventurous male, didn’t have any idea what a savings account was.
What kind of advice did the counselors give to you to help your relationship?
It wasn’t even much about what advice they gave us, but more about how they helped us relate to and with each other. Listening to me discuss my own childhood and my own feelings helped my husband see me for who I was. The same went for how I viewed him and his actions.
For weeks, we listened to each other as our counselor helped guide our emotions. He also helped keep us in check. We cried, got angry, laughed and when we finally got to the depth of the real issues we....grew. Together. It was amazing!
Our counselor(s) (yes we’ve had several over the first 10 years of our marriage..currently 17 years.) taught us how to use the “I” technique. Instead of saying,
“I can’t believe you forgot about dinner with my family! You’re a jerk! You spend so many hours in front of that television or with your friends and you never spend any time with me! Why don’t you want to do what I want to do?!”
You would say, something like...
“I feel like my family doesn’t matter sometimes and it makes me sad. It also makes me scared because I feel it’s important to have a strong family and lately things have just been different. I love my parents/siblings and I think it’s important to set aside time to build those relationships.”
(I found the following off of The Marriage Counseling Blog when I Googled "I statements". Click on the title below to visit this great blog!!
We’ve all heard it before, right? Even the most psychologically unsavvy among us has heard the importance of using “I” statements when communicating with others, such as “I feel like you’re not listening to me” instead of “You never listen to me.” The former statement is less likely to elicit a feeling of defensiveness and allows the other party to understand how their behavior is making you feel.
Couples counseling teaches you to talk to your partner in a way that is productive and “I” statements contribute to overall communication. Many couples have to “retrain” their speech to include “I” statements, but once they do, it becomes habitual and easy.
Here are a few other reasons “I” statements help facilitate healthy communication:
“I” statements help:
Express feelings productively.
Respectfully confront someone when you are bothered by his or her behavior.
Express difficult feelings without attacking the self-esteem of the person.
Clarify for you and the other person precisely what you feel. Prevent feelings from building up and festering into a bigger problem.
Communicate difficult feelings in a manner that minimizes the other person’s need to become defensive, and increases the likelihood that the person will listen.
“I” statements may seem obvious to many of us, but if you watch your speech with others, especially when you are angry or upset, you’ll notice how “you” statements come to the foreground. “You” statements will quickly block communication and can often lead to a communication stalemate.
So focus on “I” during the next talk you have with your partner. You’ll find your communication operating considerably more smoothly and defenses dropping drown quickly.
During our sessions my husband coined a phrase, “Pee on the toilet seat.” This became something our counselor started to say, too. It would always bring a roar of laughter, but once all the bitterness, anger and frustration was peeled away, we realized what that phrase meant. We still use it today. “Pee on the toilet seat” was the little things that got in the way of the main issue. These little issues became daily gripes and suddenly that’s all there were. Lots and lots of daily gripes. Enough that one might think you actually despised the person you married. Not just that, but it became the only thing I could get upset about when all the really deep issues were just too scary for me to bring up. When I couldn’t talk to him about the things that hurt me, how I felt lonely, used and untrusting, I complained about pee on the toilet seat or his dirty clothes on the floor, etc. We never got to the big issues that were tearing apart our marriage because we were so busy knocking each other down with the little things.
Was communication ever an issue for you?
Yes! “Pee on the toilet seat!”
Would you recommend counseling to a couple in need?
Without hesitation. I would probably choose Christian counseling if we needed it today, but I would not rule out a secular counselor. Furthermore, I would not listen to ONE person who told me my marriage wasn’t worth it. I also wouldn’t really seek out advice from anyone who is just recently married or lacking the value of marriage we’ve had. Singles...if you ever have a friend who says they would “never go to a counselor”, “That if they couldn’t work it out on their own then they shouldn’t be married.”...
Run, don’t walk, away from that friendship.
And, on another note, if you ever feel like you are in danger or you are being abused you need to get help! IMMEDIATELY! I will never say that your spouse will not change...even though most others will... (EVERYONE can change if they really want to and are willing to get the help), but you MUST be strong, get counseling for yourself and let it be known that if there is any hope for your marriage, your spouse must have counseling, you must have counseling and when you both are ready, you both have marital counseling. You are worth it, your spouse is worth it and your marriage (and children) are worth any amount of work it takes to build a stronger union. At least, in the end, if your spouse refuses to change and take responsibility for his/her own behavior, you’ll have gone though months of counseling and learned how to be strong. Now you can move on with your life and know you did everything to try and make it work.
I think that is all for now if I think of more or if you have other things you think would help my cause that would be fantastic.
You’re welcome! Let me know if you need anything else! Sorry if this seems choppy...I didn’t have much time to put it all together.