As a marriage counselor and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO, I see a lot of couples sit on my couch for the first time and describe to me challenges that have been going on for years. But despite how bad things got, or how long the problems went on, they never went to see a counselor. Finally, after years of fighting and unhappiness, things finally became unbearable and they called to setup an appointment. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad they did. It's just too bad that they waited so long.
I think I get why people wait so long, though. There's still such a stigma about seeing a counselor that it can seem kind of embarassing to see one. So instead of going to counseling, you try to tough it out. After all, it's not bad all the time. You tell yourself that if you can just plug through for a while, it'll start going well again soon enough.
In a recent article in Good HouseKeeping, celebrity Dax Shepard said what a lot of people think when he said: "I noticed an actor and her husband on [a recent cover of a celebrity tabloid] that said, "In Couples' Therapy!" The clear message is, "Oh, their marriage is ending." There's such a negative connotation. In my previous relationship, we went to couples' therapy at the end."
There's also a stigma that seeing a couples' counselor means that you can't handle marital problems by yourself. Everyone knows that marriage is difficult. And you think that if you need counseling, then it must mean that either your problems are worse than everyone else's, or that you're not able to manage the same problems that everyone else can. Either way, going to a counselor may feel like you're just more weak or feeble than everyone else.
Seeing a counselor is one of the strongest things you can do for your marriage
Despite all the popular beliefs and stigmas about seeing a counselor, the opposite is actually true. Seeing a marriage counselor is one of the strongest things you can do for your marriage. It tells your partner (and everyone else) that you're willing to do whatever it takes to make your marriage work. It tells yourself, your partner and others that you're not going to be one of the 50 percent who divorce because you're going to fix what needs to be fixed in order to make it work.
Seeing a counselor also shows that you're strong enough and humble enough to be held responsible for your contributions in your marriage. Everyone knows that marriage takes two. When you see a counselor, the counselor will point out things you're doing that are hurting the marriage and what can be done to fix those things. Nobody particularly enjoys hearing what they can do better, but if you see a counselor, it shows that you're strong enough to hear it — and you're strong enough to do something about it.
In the same Good Housekeeping Magazine article, Kristen Bell (who is married to Dax Shepard) says it best about marriage counseling: "You do better in the gym with a trainer; you don't figure out how to cook without reading a recipe. Therapy is not something to be embarrassed about."
Ultimately, seeing a counselor is one of the bravest decisions you can make. Instead of feeling embarassed, you should get a T-shirt for it. And even if others don't celebrate it with you, you and your spouse will be thankful you did it.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.