“Do you want to go to dinner tomorrow night?”
“I can’t, Jamal and I have counseling.”
:: awkward silence ::
A version of this conversation happens more often than you would think. People don’t really know what to say when I volunteer this information. For some reason, people don’t talk about it. People don’t want to tell anyone. It’s a deep dark secret. And I’m doing my best to change that, starting with my story.
I’ve been in and out of counseling since I was 16. Depression runs in my family, and I often needed some help just dealing with the realities of life. Counseling gave me some tools to work with and helped me each time I went. For me, it was natural to turn to counseling in my marriage as well.
Jamal and I have been married for just under seven years. We started dating 13 years ago, when we were 16. We’ve known each other since we were 8. (Awww). In the past seven years, life has happened: marriage, moving overseas, deployment, twin pregnancy, geographical separation, another move, another pregnancy, another move. We graduated college, got married, and moved to Germany in the span of three months. Nothing tragic or unbearable. Really nothing out of the ordinary (okay, the twins thing might count). Just life.
Like every couple, we have our ups and downs. We laugh a lot together. We yell, sometimes more often than others. We like to go dancing and giggle about the antics of our three boys. I get frustrated when he forgets to take out the trash. He hates when I overreact about the little things. He’s go with the flow. I have a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C with contingencies. No huge differences. We agree on parenting styles and share our religious beliefs. Nothing out of the ordinary.
So why do we go to counseling? Because we want to remain ordinary. In the past seven years, we have both been to counseling individually as well as together at times. We don’t always go regularly. Sometimes it’s months of regular appointments. Others it’s an appointment here and there. It varies depending on what support we need or what we’re dealing with in our lives.
We’re committed not just to staying in our relationship, but to enjoying our relationship. Sometimes a third party in the room makes all the difference. Counseling has taught us to listen to each other more. It has taken us out of our house and away from our kids a few times a month to be with each other. It allows us to table an argument and discuss it when we aren’t in the heat of the moment. It gives us a chance to focus on each other and our relationship. It helps us laugh more.
I don’t walk around telling everyone we go to counseling. But I don’t hide it either. I don’t shy away from giving it as an explanation. I reference discussions we have in counseling. I am quick to offer our counselor to a friend in need or anyone who asks. If people are upset about something in their marriage, I ask if they’ve considered counseling and talk about how great it has been for us.
Many couples (or individuals) wait to go to counseling until things are really bad, but it helps to be proactive. We are not on the brink of divorce. And we don’t want to be. We would rather laugh than yell. Counseling keeps us laughing. We make our counselor laugh. It is not always sunshine and roses, but we typically leave counseling feeling better about one another than when we went in. We may walk in silent, but we walk out smiling and holding hands. I don’t want to hide that. I want to share it. We’re in counseling. And it’s awesome.