Blog post by Courtney Miller
Or maybe you are a wife who stubbornly refuses to come with your spouse. I get it, you don’t want to come. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, this is a common predicament that couples’ therapists encounter. Even though I have never actually spoken to you, I’ve heard and seen enough to have a good understanding of what keeps you and others like you away. Maybe you have already mentally and emotionally checked out of the relationship, so you have zero desire to fix it. Maybe your spouse cheated on you, and you don’t think they even deserve a chance. Maybe you don’t “believe” in therapy, you think it’s a sham and doesn’t work. Maybe you don’t think you are the problem, so why go? Maybe you believe therapy is only for the weak-minded, and people should be able to fix their own problems. Maybe you are refusing to come because you are afraid you will be exposed in some way – maybe you have been cheating or hiding an addiction. I totally understand, from where you are standing, these are all very reasonable objections to therapy, especially if you have tried counseling in the past and had a bad experience.
If you are checked out mentally and emotionally, therapy may feel like beating a dead horse to you. Maybe you feel that it will just cause further pain or raise your spouse’s hopes. But if you’re going to leave a very long-term relationship, don’t you want to know that you’ve given it everything you have? Explored for blind spots? What is a couple of months of therapy compared to the years of your relationship? If your conclusion is still the same after a couple of months, then at least you will have some tools to better communicate during the very difficult divorce and post-divorce days ahead. Improved communication is even more crucial when children are involved.
If your spouse cheated on you, I know you are still reeling from the pain and may believe therapy can’t possibly help. Again, I get it, but I would ask you to look at it from a different perspective. What if I were to tell you that you are likely suffering from symptoms that mimic those of PTSD – yes, trauma. When you’ve been cheated on, you can experience flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is a state of increased anxiety which can lead to exhaustion; it’s our internal threat detection system being constantly triggered (fight or flight). In other words, you will likely feel like a grenade has been detonated in the middle of your life. Because of this, if you come in to therapy, the initial stage will be focused on you. It will center on your sense of emotional safety and well-being. Only when you’ve begun to show marked improvement will we turn our attention to the relationship between you and your spouse. You might be surprised to learn that the majority of marriages can survive infidelity, and some of them are even better.
Maybe you think therapy is a sham and doesn’t work. If you’ve never tried it, you are left to trust Hollywood’s depiction of it. Unfortunately, movies are a poor representation, leaving therapy with a bad rap. In the movies, therapists are frequently reduced to head-nodders that make occasional monosyllabic utterances like “ah” and “hmm”, and clients are reduced to confused, sad individuals. In addition, the fact that therapy is secretive by nature only makes it more misunderstood – few people walk around discussing their wonderful, life-changing experiences with it. When was the last time your neighbor came over and said, “Hey Joe, your lawn looks great! By the way, I saw my therapist today, and I think I’m making real progress with my anger!”? It just doesn’t happen. If you have tried therapy, and it didn’t work out well, it may have soured you on the experience. Unfortunately, this does happen, but finding the right therapist can take time. You wouldn’t stop going to the doctor or take your home off the market because you didn’t like the first doctor or realtor you saw. No, you would try out new ones until you found the right fit.
Maybe you think your spouse is the primary contributor to the problems in your relationship, so there is no reason for you to attend. This belief is actually a pretty common one. Your spouse likely has some pretty bad relationship habits, and it makes perfect sense why you are frustrated and don’t want to come. However, I think you might have some bad habits as well, you just aren’t aware of them. Research shows that when people come to believe that their partners are the problem – or deserve more blame – their partners almost never change and the relationship almost never gets better. Reason being, when your partner senses that you believe you are better than them or superior in some way, it actually makes them less cooperative and less receptive to your point of view. Furthermore, it’s almost never true! When we look at the full range of behaviors that are destructive to relationships, the research shows that partners contribute at roughly the same levels. Thanks to our natural biases towards our own way of being, thinking, and handling things, we don’t see our own crap. We’re blind to it. (Atkinson, 2016)
Maybe you think that therapy is for the weak-minded, and couples should be able to solve their own problems. You might be thinking “We’re pretty smart people, and we’ve made it this far in life, why would we pay someone to help us?”. This would be a completely reasonable mindset if you thought you were just coming in to talk to an unbiased adult, but this is not the case. We have been trained in the most effective treatment methods for couples, and we make it our job to know the habits that lead to relationship success or failure – something that can be ascertained with about 90% accuracy! In fact, research shows that only about 20% of people possess the skills necessary to elicit positive change in their partners. Most people simply don’t know what to do when their partners behave in ways they don’t like. Luckily, these skills are teachable and learnable. If the words “counseling” or “therapy” have a negative connotation for you, please call it coaching or relationship consulting instead. (Atkinson, 2016)
Finally, maybe you don’t want to come because you are afraid of being exposed. You may be hiding something that would jeopardize your relationship – this could be addiction, infidelity, concerns regarding sexual orientation, or maybe you think you’ve fallen out of love with your spouse but you want to stay married for the kids. These are just a few examples, but they all have the same thing in common, they are painful secrets to hold alone. It’s called couples counseling, but that doesn’t mean that I will always see you as a couple. You will start with an individual session, and we will have as many individual sessions as we (you and I) deem beneficial. I can help you work through any confused, conflicted feelings you may be having, and if necessary, I can help you package them in a way that your spouse can hear and understand.
This is not an exhaustive list, so if I happened to miss your reason for not wanting to come in, please reach out us. Like other health concerns, early intervention is key. So stop waiting.