My beloved wife and I had an idyllic but whirlwind romance after one of my Scouts lined us up on a blind date. But we were both in our mid-20s and had been around the block a few times. So by the time we wed 4½ months later we both felt certain that we were doing the right thing.
We moved into a small starter home and began married life. Trials can cause a couple to grow closer or to grow apart. Thanks to my wife, we grew closer together when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis two years later.
But several years and two kids further down the road I was concerned about our marriage. Intellectually I understood that it is common for a husband to feel neglected when a couple has kids to care for, especially when the kids are young. Parents — particularly mothers of young children — only have so much energy and the kids demand a lot of it.
While I understood this in my head, I still felt hurt and empty inside. We talked together about what I was feeling. Despite my wife having a bachelor degree in family relationships, we didn't really arrive at any solutions that helped. Ultimately she suggested that we go to a professional family counselor.
Counseling has had a negative connotation in our culture. People expect you to go to a medical doctor if your body is sick or injured. But for some reason, going for professional help when your relationship or your mind is sick or injured has seemed scandalous. Such matters have been seen as character flaws that might even be dangerous, rather than as common conditions that require competent treatment. Traditionally there was a distrust of mental and relationship health practitioners that placed them in the same category as witch doctors.
Another reason that people often avoid counseling is the cost, which frequently isn't covered by insurance. Of course, the 'pay a little now or pay a lot later' paradigm applies here. Going to counseling is a lot cheaper than getting a divorce. Fortunately my wife's parents graciously offered to help us defray our treatment expenses.
Our counselor was a former college classmate of my wife's. He had gone on to graduate school and had become a professional family counselor. He met with us together and individually. On the second visit he explained something that kind of surprised both of us. Although I was the one that was experiencing psychological pain, both of us were ill, as it were. My wife's symptoms simply differed from mine. We had developed some less healthy patterns and it was our job to correct those patterns.
Given that both of us were 'sick,' both of us had roles to play in our treatment. We were given a variety of assignments to complete, some individually and some as a couple. Some of these were pleasant and some were less so. But we studiously worked on our assignments.
At first I found myself somewhat more frustrated that I had been, although, there was hope that we were pursuing a path to a better relationship, when I had previously felt hopeless. Within a few weeks we had a breakthrough experience. Although I didn't know it at the time, the treatment had been designed with this goal in mind. After a couple months of treatment, we agreed with the counselor that his services were no longer needed. We now had resources to address any issues that might arise.
I'm not sure if the counseling we had at that time saved our marriage, because we were nowhere near dissolution. I will say that it potentially saved our marriage. It definitely improved our relationship. Our counselor complemented us on taking care of the matter early. He said that many couples let symptoms fester for years, and then it takes a whole lot more work to rebuild healthy patterns.
I would like to say that we sailed on blissfully after that. But the truth is that we still struggled with variations of the same issues off and on for a number of years as we added three more kids and dealt with various life situations and stresses. But we have regularly worked on these problems together, finding and employing resources that have helped.
We no longer have little kids. Our clan now presents a whole new cadre of problems. But thanks to the patterns we have developed in the past, these situations do not have the kind of deleterious effects that we were experiencing when we first went for counseling; although, we constantly need to make purposeful efforts to work on our relationship.
We are far from perfect as a couple. But we are strongly committed to each other, to us as a couple, and to our whole family. That kind of thing can go a long way toward helping deal with the natural bumps and bruises life brings to relationships. We also know from experience that when a relationship needs more than simple first aid or home remedies, trained professionals can help with treatment and healing.