Marriage counseling isn’t always the best next step for every person.
As a marriage counselor, I have learned that one main reason that many people, particularly stoic types-- male or female--are not a fan of therapy IS NOT because he/she doesn’t care about the relationship or their partner, IS NOT because he/she think they know everything, IS NOT because of money, rather, it’s because they fear it will lead to the end of the relationship.
People don’t want to start something that they fear will inevitably lead to losing what they have. Staying in limbo--even with their partner’s low level dissatisfaction--is better than risking the possibility of breaking up.
This truth isn’t often well known because the person who feels this way is sure not going to say it outloud. No one has ever called me up and said,
“I’m being obstinate and evasive about going to therapy because my partner is of so much value and I’m afraid of losing it all.”
Stating this truth, particularly to oneself, is antithetical to the stoic mindset. A stoic, alpha, self-reliant personality derives self-respect from being self-accountable: handling life well on the basis of their values and on the backbone of a strong work ethic. So, if something is not going well, the impulse isn’t to cry for help, but instead, to dig in and work more. Push yourself even harder.
The pushing yourself to do better, to solve problems, while it feels instinctive, it isn’t always helpful with relationship issues. The partner pushing their self focuses inward, works harder “for” the relationship, while inadvertently abandoning their partner, who is right in front of them and advocating to “work together” to focus on resolve problems. They propose marriage counseling to work together to “help us.”
The stoic person, who’s afraid of loss, hears this request as evidence that they personally aren’t successful. That he/she is failing. Period. Not much more nuanced information can get digested.
And, similar to previous life situations when there hardship, the stoic person doubles down on self-reliance. He/she evokes a determination and inward focus, displays a resistance to outside help because it feels like it will slow them down and is counter-intuitive to their own internal navigational system.
This resistance, however, feels alienating to the partner who is suggested it. They pull away feeling hurt, ignored and neglected.
After years of sitting across from couples, I see this pain point often simply as a misunderstanding, albeit one that can lead to heartbreaking consequences. But, once you boil down the real issue, both sides have merit. Both people want to decrease suffering and are worried about the partnership. But, important information gets lost in translation.
Overcome This Misunderstanding
The first and most important step for the partner who wants to go to counseling is explaining yourself. Don’t assume you are both just alike in your mindset. The resistant partner needs to understand crystal clear what the intention is behind the request. Make sure you slow down and be truthful, clarifying,
Is it to break up? Or, Is it to get better?
In fact, having an honest, patient conversation about this to begin with could do a great deal to improve your relationship before you even schedule a first appointment. It may even alleviate the need to go in the first place.
If you do decide to pursue counseling, the stoic partner needs to understand that counseling done with the right, skilled person who they like, can help them do their job as a partner better. It’s like investing in the right equipment for a do-it-yourself home remodel. You are still doing the work yourself, but relying on a higher quality design, tools and prep work, saves time and elevates the quality of the final product. A beautiful finished project increases your quality of life, peace of mind and the home’s overall value. The same is true for relationships.
Marriage counseling isn’t always the best next step for every person. I highly recommend first focusing on your unique situation, immerse yourself in Relationship Education, set some goals and get organized.