A quick Google search may say independent therapy harms marriage. However, this is how my therapy has actually strengthened our marriage.
My marriage is one of the aspects of my life I never thought would change as a result of therapy. A quick search on Google may actually lead one to believe therapy can do more harm than help to a marriage. Parts 1–3 of “How My Therapist Destroyed My Marriage” are the top posts on this search. I didn’t read through all of the articles, but the premise is that individual therapy can destroy a marriage. Perhaps this is true for some couples, but for me and my husband — I can wholeheartedly say my therapy sessions have strengthened our marriage.
How My Therapy Has Strengthened Our Marriage
It’s been three years this June since I started therapy for anxiety after my two month battle with Coronavirus. In the beginning I only spoke about being sick and my catastrophic anxiety. I rarely brought up anyone or anything but the illness. We spoke two times a week though, and eventually our conversation topics shifted to other aspects of my life.
I was always hesitant to bring up my marriage because it felt wrong to discuss my husband without him present. Inevitably issues arose (no marriage is perfect) and I asked my therapist for advice. Without divulging the topic — which I remember clearly — I recall being surprised at the guidance I was given for handling the situation.
This brings me to the first lesson I learned in therapy which has strengthened my marriage: the power of a response over a reaction is immeasurable.
Response vs. Reaction
Our human nature is to react to our environment, but it’s not always the best action to take. For years I reacted in shameful ways during arguments with my husband — shameful because I rarely meant what I said. We all know anger and sadness can illicit intense knee jerk reactions. In therapy I learned my RESPONSE is more powerful than my reaction. I think it may help if I give an example of how this works, so let me set the scene:
It’s been a long week at home with three kids. It’s been raining, the baby is sick, the house is a mess, and I have had little to no time to myself. The forecast for the weekend is finally sunshine and my husband says he would like to golf on Sunday. My initial reaction is NO. “You’re going to go golfing and leave me alone with the kids all day again?”
In the past I would have said just that — probably in a not so friendly way. But now I let those feelings marinate a bit while I think about how I want to respond. I also consider his point of view (which is something I have learned to do in therapy as well).
My thoughts: “Not only have I had a tough week, but he has too. Work has been hard, he’s been trapped in his office from 5am — 5pm every day, and he has had a nagging cold. Just like me, he is feeling like he needs a release. If he goes golfing Sunday, can I do something for myself on Saturday? I feel overwhelmed with life and need time alone to recharge my batteries. I would love to run some kid-free errands and take a yoga class. Plus, I could do something fun with the children while he is golfing that will bring us all joy.”
It’s Okay to Go to Bed Angry
Taking time to think before I speak has done wonders for our marriage. I am not only able to explain to him how I am feeling, but I am also able to take time to understand his point of view. You know that saying, “Never go to bed angry” — well I don’t agree with it. Nine out of ten times we give ourself a bit of space, we can have a pleasant conversation that leads to a mutually happy resolution.
My husband has picked up on this habit and tries to give me space when I need it too. I find it comical that we have been together since 2004 and it took 19 years for us to understand how each other works. But the success of this small change in our relationship is a testament to the fact that marriage is a hard work in progress.
And it’s taken quite some time, but my husband now thanks me for expressing my true emotions instead of blowing up like a volcano.
There is a time and a place for honesty in marriage.
When my mother mental load becomes too heavy, I used to dump it all on my husband. He would know it was coming because I start angry cleaning the house. Nowadays he knows to run for the hills and wait until I’ve calmed down. My husband didn’t always know what to do — but since I started therapy I have been able to articulate how rapid cleaning is one of my coping mechanisms. I do it when I’m anxious, angry, overwhelmed, overstimulated… if you name it and I feel it, I start to clean.
When I am in a better headspace to have a conversation I decide whether or not it is worth telling my husband what triggered my cleaning episode. I am a firm believer in honesty as one of the pillars to a great marriage, but there is a time and a place for that honesty. When my mind is reeling — I make space for those thoughts. Then I ask myself, “Do I need to do something with it or do I need to let it go and move forward?” Not everything is worth sharing with your spouse, especially if it is an irrational thought.
There is so much power in admitting (and apologizing) when you are wrong.
Being a great partner doesn’t mean you never make mistakes. Being the best partner doesn’t mean you are perfect. With that being said, being an incredible partner means you can admit AND APOLOGIZE when you are wrong. We are all bound to mess up in one way or another.
“To err is human.”
I have always been someone who jumps to say, “I’m sorry” but never to the ones I actually care about. Therapy has helped me to learn to own and apologize for my wrongdoings. We all know it takes a lot to admit to not just others, but to yourself, when you are mistaken. But the power behind it — its so humbling and courageous to say, “I am sorry I was wrong.” Reflect on yourself without judgement so you don’t horrible for the mistakes you have made.
Therapy says It’s Ok to Let Things Go in Marriage
There is so much than can be said about letting things go in a marriage. While I do believe there are some things that you can’t let go, therapy has taught me to let go of so much I held on to for years. Here are some things I learned to let go in marriage (and a few I never held on to, but know you should let go of too):
- Cleanliness. I can talk a lot about how we’ve remedied the CLEAN problem, but sometimes you just have to make jokes about it. I’ve named my husband’s daily outfits strewn on the floor from the night before “The Invisible Man.” Sometimes I see him, and sometimes I don’t.
- Perfection in marriage. There is no perfect marriage and that’s ok. As long as you are both happy — that is what matters most.
- In-laws will not always love you. There are going to be moments where your partners’ family doesn’t like you and that’s normal.
- Past relationships are irrelevent.
- Fear of what can go wrong — this can destroy a marriage.
- My partner will never be able to read my mind. I want to feel validated in my feelings, but my husband would never know that unless I tell him. So I started telling him what I needed to hear — and boy has it helped.
- We are not the same person. If my partner is in a bad mood, it isn’t necessarily my fault or my problem to fix.
I’m Responsible for My Own Emotions
“Those words hurt my heart.” I know my husband isn’t responsible for my feelings — nor is any other human on this planet but myself. However, when his words or actions have hurt my feelings, it’s important I let him know. If I don’t, I bottle up the sadness inside and eventually burst over something unrelated. In therapy I have learned how to not only assume my personal emotional responsibility, but to also encourage my husband to do the same. Emotional responsibility is enables us to have respectful conversations in the form of, “I feel this because…” instead of “You make me feel this way because… .”
We have a lot more to learn…
Over the last three years my marriage has become stronger than ever for a myriad of reasons. My independent therapy sessions is definitely one of the reasons why my husband and I are in such a great place. Once I learned how to communicate my emotions, my husband became more open with his thoughts and feelings. I know we both have a lot more to learn about each other, especially as we change over the years as individuals, parents, and partners. The only way a marriage will flourish and succeed is if there’s an equal amount of effort on both sides.
And I’m happy we are both harmoniously on the same page for doing whatever it takes to make it work for the rest of time.