The 3 Powerful Lessons Learned After Seeing a Relationship Counselor
I needed to make a change and become a better husband
Six months ago, I was sitting on the couch in a therapist’s office. I wasn’t there by myself, and I wasn’t there because my marriage was falling apart. I was there with my wife because I love her. To support her. Wanting to make our marriage even better than it already was.
My wife has been through a tough time. With her mother passing away six months prior. Combined with her brother being involved in a serious head-on car accident. All this with Covid ravaging its way through the country, it all got too much. The reason for instigating the sessions was not only to provide my wife with some professional support but also for myself. I needed to be a better listener — a better husband, and I didn’t have the skills.
I recognized that what my wife was going through was way over my head. Having the personality that I have, In order to feel like I was helping; I needed to fix everything — to make everything better.
The world doesn’t work like that. Deep down, I was beating my head against a brick wall. My wife was looking to me for a consolement, and all I could offer her was; Just do this — ‘don’t worry about it’ — just do that. The frustration growing because I didn’t know how to respond in a consoling way. Turns out all that was needed to do was to listen more.
It surprised the therapist that I was the one that instigated the sessions, saying that it was unusual for a man to reach out like this. I felt it was my role as a husband to acknowledge when I could not help that I was out of my depth and had to do something about it.
Why seek counseling?
Counseling for couples whether in struggling or successful relationships provides guidance on those painful experiences and situations that are often difficult to go through alone. Counselors can provide clarity and context on how you are feeling and provide you the tools and advice to cope with the situation and move forward in a more positive way.
I used to think that seeking the services of a relationship counselor was a sign of failure — that I wasn’t a good enough husband. I wasn’t able to help my wife be happier than what was I? I learned that counseling helped me understand how to be a more active listener. This is helping me improve my marriage, and that’s something I can take a lot of confidence in.
The skills that I learned from just a couple of sessions with the counselor helped me improve and understand how to take more positive steps in my marriage. It’s easy to feel too proud to seek help if you think you need it. However, it’s an opportunity to improve your style of communication for both partners.
How to be a more active listener?
Being an active listener is like having a superpower. It shows the person you are listening to that you are engaged and showing respect to what is being said. It shows empathy and a willingness to understand another person’s point of view. There are many ways that we can practice active listening.
- Be engaged — That means put down the phone, book, or turn off the TV and start paying attention.
- Empathetic and non-judgmental — Let your partner finish what they want to say without interruption. This is respectful and shows your partner that what they are saying is being heard.
- Be Patient — It may be a challenge for your partner to open up about what they want to talk about. Periods of silence don’t have to be filled with talking, just for the sake of it. This can be hard as silence can be uncomfortable and frustrating. With a temptation to jump in and pre-empt what they want to say or offer an opinion. Resist.
- Verbal and nonverbal feedback — To show signs of listening, e.g., smiling, eye contact, leaning in, or mirroring.
- Ask questions — If what they said is not clear, or you missed some detail.
- Reflecting — On what they said and asking for clarification
- Summarizing — Summary of what you heard can be powerful and shows that you were engaged and were an active listener.
None of us are perfect, and that’s a good thing. Just acknowledging that you are trying to listen in a more supportive way during a challenging time is a valuable skill to have in any relationship.
Try not to be a problem solver
It’s easy to forget that men and women have different ways of communicating. Internal data from Lasting shows that 80 percent of their users vent to their spouses. This included only seven percent of women that thought that they could do this without their partners jumping in to solve their problems. In reality, all your partner may need is the feeling that they are being listened to. Being an active listener means you are engaged on a much deeper level. It might be an appropriate response if the disagreement is about not taking out the trash. It’s a different story if the conversation is emotionally charged. Taking the problem-solving approach could make the situation worse.
“It can increase disconnection because you’ve not allowed that person’s experience to be fully seen and heard.” — Liz Colizza
I used to do this all the time, having to force myself to stop when I realize I’m trying to solve my wife’s problems. It’s important, to be honest, and open when communicating. I also rely on my wife to talk with me and explain when I’m not being helpful. Communication in any relationship is a two-way street. I’m happy that we are not perfect. Allowing us to grow and mature together gives me so much comfort.
COVID has changed the way we do things in different ways. While you may be in lockdown, accessing in-person mental health services may not be as feasible. Businesses have had to adapt, many going online to offer their services to people that need them. Couples dealing with the stresses of lockdown and COVID may be in a better position to access these services.
In a pre-COVID survey, 73% of respondents still preferred in-person psychotherapy sessions, but the interesting statistic is of the same respondents, 72% would try digital psychotherapy in the future. With reasons respondents were likely to try online options, barriers such as stigma, cost, accessibility, and insurance barriers were prominent.
Whatever the reasons you are likely to try online services, there is no shortage of options available. Whether it’s accessing the services of online professions and having counseling sessions via Zoom, or Skype. Online chat services can be popular. Apps such as Talkspace, Betterhelp, and ReGain can assist with most relationship issues you or your partner may have.
Although seeking help online wasn’t a choice I considered. Looking back, I can see the enormous amount of value it can present. Writing on Medium is a direct response to going to those sessions. The counselor asked me to create a journal in order to document the way I was feeling. This allowed me to recognize areas I excel in but also areas that needed focus. This is a strategy that worked for me. It didn’t cost me anything and has already provided enormous benefits.
Seeking help from a counselor can be a huge step in any relationship. It’s a leap of faith. Having trust in the counselor and the process. Knowing that there is a real opportunity to come away in a much more positive light. Now that my wife and I have been to a few counseling sessions, both together and by ourselves. I see the enormous value it creates. Our marriage is so much stronger as a result.
Don’t be afraid to seek out help if you feel you need it.