There's no shame in going to therapy. I should know, I'm a therapist. However, I'm originally from the Midwest where "therapy" is practically a dirty word. You only go if you're forced to or you're ready for an institution. People who are "weak" go to therapists, or at least that's what most of the messages were where I grew up. I know that mine is not the only upbringing that instills those damaging messages. The truth is that anybody, especially couples, can benefit from counseling. However, you must face the struggles of going to a relationship counselor with your partner in order to enjoy the benefits.
We all bring our "emotional ish" to relationships, and there is no shame in acknowledging that. Based on my personal long-term monogamous experience, I would actually say that if you want the deepest, purest, most loyal and rewarding relationship possible with your partner, it's best to not only acknowledge that baggage but unpack it together. I'm not saying you need counseling to get to that place with your partner, but it certainly doesn't hurt. It's also better to go to counseling to grow your relationship than it is to wait until something is really wrong with your relationship.
My partner and I went to counseling together eight years ago, once, and we still use the skills learned in those sessions. All that said, it's only fair to prepare you. If you're thinking about taking this next, deepening step in your relationship you should know the potential struggles of going to a relationship counselor with your partner.
When You Agree Not To Talk About "It"
If you're anything like us, we decided there was the one "thing" we wouldn't talk about in therapy. I don't even remember what that was now, to be honest. I'm not sure what we were hoping to achieve because I obviously know if you can't talk about your relationship honestly nothing will change. That's exactly what happened, too. The first session after we agreed not to talk about "it" was the first session we absolutely talked about "it."
When You Have To Be Patient
All couples have some sort of dynamic where one partner carries more of the emotional burden than the other. It's not a judgment, it's just the way human beings show up. Inevitably, your interaction styles were conditioned differently. Each of your emotional baggage, so to speak, shows up in your relationship, and that can't help but show up in therapy.
We had a great couples' therapist. However, not only was I in the profession, but my partner had never gone to therapy before. If you're anything like my partner, you may not know that there is a certain skill to being a client in therapy. You don't just pop out of the womb knowing how to be a client of therapy. So you have to allow for some learning time, and the amount needed may differ for both of you. Be patient.
When You Act As A Mediator
During the getting-to-know you portion of our couples counseling, I took on the role of mediating and advocating for my partner's needs. I know, I know, controlling much? Remember when I said your relationship dynamics will show up in the counseling room? Well, this is one of ours. I'm the one with emotional intelligence. My partner, being on the autism spectrum, finds it difficult to connect with other people quickly. Certainly, airing the most vulnerable parts of yourself in a one hour therapy session can be challenging for anyone. Things that counselors normally encourage, like eye contact, is not always possible for someone on the spectrum.
I spent a lot of the first few sessions mediating their relationship so they would understand how to communicate with each other, and the counselor could then teach us how to better communicate with one another.
This isn't something I'd recommend long-term in a couples' counseling relationship, but patience is required when you're getting started.
When You Have To Bring Your Kid
You can't find a babysitter and you have to bring your kid. So, even though the child is under 2 years old you still speak in code for an entire hour. When your partner is like mine, and everything needs to be black and white, this is so unproductive.
When You Return To "Real Life"
The most work happens between sessions in couples counseling. So not only do you have to get down to the nitty gritty in the session with a stranger, but you've got to keep it up at home. (Perhaps even more terrifyingly without the stranger to guide you, honestly.)
When You Have To Dive In
The counselor will see all of your wounds and the defenses you want to keep secret, then probably break through them with the greatest of ease. That is hard AF and easily one of the hardest things you'll ever have to do. Yet, in order to reap the many rewards of counseling you must let the counselor in. Period. End of story. Drop the defenses and dive into the deep end.
When You Could Hurt Your Partner's Feelings
A potential challenge is the amount of information you'll now have about your partner. In moments of anger you have all of this ammunition. Listen, though. This is important. You must not use it. Not ever.
Of course we don't want to hurt our partners, not really. However, in anger you sometimes think you want to hurt the people you love.
If you go there, and break the sacred space that is the counseling room, there really is not any coming back from it. If you want growth and connection you've gotta let go of petty vindictiveness and fear.
When You Close The Exits
Closing the exits in relationship counseling means each of you will make a commitment not to leave. You are in this life and relationship together. You will do this sometimes scary and messy work in therapy together. Neither of you is going anywhere.
Scary AF to be in it fully and with no escape routes.
Your counselor is going to ask you to do this, though, no matter how scary it is. In order to be fully present in couples' counseling we had to make a commitment to ourselves and each other that we would work through whatever comes up. Leaving was not an option.*
*The closing exits piece is not appropriate in abusive relationships.
When You Crack Open
Cracking open to show your soft underbelly to another human being is so painful, even if that person is your partner in life. Perhaps especially if that person is your partner in life.
It is so necessary to show yourself fully, and for your partner to do the same, if what you're after is a trusting, loving, open relationship. Vulnerability, when you first do it, feels like you just might die. But you won't die. And isn't the other side so worth the risk?
When Counseling Is A Success
Now you must be prepared. There is a reason "be careful what you wish for" is an old adage. When counseling is a success you've got that honest, authentic relationship you wished for. Now that level of vulnerable-under-belly-showing is a constant challenge to keep up. You can let it slide, go back to day-to-day, living side-by-side but not really seeing each other life. But you will both know what your connection could be so chances are neither of you will be satisfied with this return to status quo.
Constant connection takes emotional labor, present-centeredness and a willingness from each of you to look stupid, be vulnerable and love each other no matter what.
It's no small feat, to be sure. However, if you and your partner are anything like me and my partner, the pay off is priceless.