I hear a lot of excuses about why couples don’t think they need a therapist to help fix their relationship woes. And yes, they are excuses. Because, at the end of the day, seeing a therapist means a couple is willing to do whatever it takes to save their marriage. No “buts” or “ifs” or “maybes.”
My clients are aware that they are not able to find solutions to their problems alone. They are not concerned about what people might think about the fact that they are seeing a therapist… Their main concern is fixing their marriage.
But getting a couple into my office (or in some cases, onto my Skype screen) is just the first step to a happier, healthier marriage. It takes strength, courage and work to go through the counseling process, but it pays off. It is an emotional process — yes, sometimes you may want to throw in the towel — but your marriage is worth fighting for. It’s worth having some hard days if you know your relationship will soar because of it.
So, why does therapy work? When working with a counselor, couples get a chance to see their partner’s point of view without judgment or control. Couples hear from a third party about the challenges in their marriage but also create solutions that put them both in a win-win situation. That’s why counseling works. It is not about who is right and who is wrong but about who is ready to make changes to help the relationship work. At the end of the day, if both partners make positive changes to benefit their partnership then couples counseling is a home run.
To show you just how and why this process works, I want to give you a glimpse into one couple’s counseling experience. Meet Ethan and Kelly.
Case Study: Background
Ethan and Kelly had been married for 10 years when they contacted me to start couples therapy. They were married when Ethan was 25 and Kelly was 22, and they had their first child after one year of marriage. Kelly was in college, studying to be a teacher; however, once she became pregnant they decided she would put college on the backburner and be a stay-at-home mom. Ethan ran a family construction business and was financially able to take care of his family.
They called me when Ethan found texts between Kelly and a male friend by the name of Bobby. The text messages were not sexual, but they were emotionally driven: “If you were mine, I would not treat you that way;” “You are so beautiful;” “You deserve to be happy everyday;” “Don’t cry over him. You can do so much better.” Ethan became enraged, and he confronted Kelly. Kelly told Ethan that she had felt lonely for years and that he never tried to make her happy. She said it felt good to have someone who pays attention to her and supports her.
Hearing these things from Kelly, Ethan threatened her by saying, “This is my house and my money, and I will make sure Mia (their daughter) will be my daughter.” Ethan left their home, and three days later he called Kelly and apologized. He said that if no sex was involved (Kelly assured him that it was not a sexual relationship), then he thinks he could work through it. Ethan apologized for his remarks and anger. Kelly apologized for allowing her relationship with Bobby to become inappropriate. At that time, they both agreed they should go to marriage counseling.
Case Study: Counseling in Action
Although they both apologized, Kelly still felt vulnerable because Ethan did make all the money, and she felt that if he wanted to, he could take Mia. She also started to feel angry about not finishing school and resentment toward Ethan, who never made her career a priority — like she had his. She realized she felt more like Ethan’s roommate for the past 5 years, but she was too chicken to stand her ground and say what she needed. So, instead, she went along with an unhappy marriage.
Ethan apologized but felt embarrassed that his wife would allow another man to talk to her that way. He thought, “What if I would not have read the text? Would the relationship have turned into a sexual one?” Ethan felt like he sacrificed his own dreams of owning a restaurant to work in his family business, so he could provide a stable life for Kelly and Mia. And then she goes and does this? He was filled with anger and contempt.
This is proof that apologies are good, but they don’t get rid of those nasty emotions that get stuck deep inside. Only real, genuine forgiveness can do that.
I saw Ethan and Kelly together for the first session, then each individually and then back together again. This is so I can listen to them both together, see how they interact together and listen to how they present their issues when they are in the same room. Seeing them individually to give them each an opportunity to share their feelings without trying to protect the other person or without fear of “making things worse.” Also, seeing them individually gives me a chance to understand them and their viewpoints, helping me to see if there are deeper issues than what’s going in the marriage. This helps me to create solutions specifically for the couple. I don’t use the same approach for every couple because each couple is unique.
I saw Ethan and Kelly bi-weekly for three months, and during each session we kicked elephants out the room, discussed deep issues, laughed about the good times, created solutions and reviewed homework assignments. And every session, I saw the couple become friends, grow more connected and build a foundation on forgiveness and commitment.
Case Study: The Outcome
It wasn’t easy, but Kelly and Ethan became individuals and partners they could be proud of. At the end of their counseling, Kelly found out she was pregnant, and they both were overjoyed. Ethan cut back his hours at work to spend more time at home with Kelly and Mia. Plus, Kelly and Ethan made it a priority to spend quality time alone. We developed a transition plan, so they continue to stay on the right track after therapy. They laughed more, showed more compassion with each other and felt free to communicate their needs. They found a way to live happily ever after with a baby on board. Now, they have a 6-month-old son named Ethan James, whom they call EJ.
Like I said, every relationship is different. As a counselor, I know success looks different for each couple. But generally speaking, success is when your partner has hurt you and you choose to love them anyway. To get to that point during the therapy process, couples work toward two main goals in therapy.
The first goal is forgiveness. No matter if it is infidelity, family conflict, intimacy issues or communication problems that brings you to counseling, you will work toward forgiving your partner for 1) what they know they did and 2) what they don’t know they did. Many people may say, “Well, forgiveness isn’t that easy. They really hurt me,” but it is. You see, forgiveness is a choice and the start to rebuilding your marriage.
Without forgiveness, you are living in the problem and not looking at the problem. When you are living in the problem, you can’t be objective, and arguments from 15 years ago are still an issue. When you are looking at the problem, you can objectively identify the problem and create solutions. It’s not about “you or me.” It is about fixing the problem, and in order to do that, “we” have to be on the same team.
The second goal is honesty. To get to a place of happiness, couples need to be honest about who they are as individuals and what they want, leaving no room for interpretation. This is how your partner learns what you need, what you want and the best ways to give it to you. If you are walking on eggshells in your relationship — because you are afraid of addressing issues or saying how you feel — then what type of relationship is that? In couples therapy, it is my job to set a new path for your relationship, on which you feel safe to speak your truth without the fear of being ridiculed. But remember, I can only set the path. I can’t force you or your partner to be honest.
Kelly and Ethan’s story shows that when couples are committed to the process of marriage counseling and trust their counselor to guide them on the right path, they can reach their goals and have the marriage they’ve always wanted. Ethan and Kelly both came into counseling harboring old and new feelings of anger and resentment, but they left forgiving each other and starting a life they didn’t think was possible.
If you are ready for a healthy, happy relationship, ready for forgiveness and honesty, ready to kick all those elephants out of the room and to let go of all the baggage, then you are ready to see a couples counselor. And I am ready to help set a path for you and your partner. You can contact me at (864) 559-8181 to schedule your appointment. I can help individuals and couples in the Greenville, SC area. Relationship and Life Coaching sessions are available via phone.