Something happened when we were transparent with our friends, and by friends I mean anyone that crossed our path, about Chris’s affair and our choice to stay together. Women, strong, beautiful, talented, intimidating women, started coming to me and pouring their hearts out about their own marital struggles.
At first, I thought it was natural. My friends and coworkers saw me going through a hard time, and they wanted to talk with someone that could relate to their heartache. But then, it wasn’t just women that knew I was struggling that started opening up to me. Maybe it’s because I became more sensitive to heartache, or maybe it’s the bleeding heart that I wear on my sleeve, but women I didn’t even know would start talking to me about their marriages, sometimes in the strangest of places.
Poolside. The library. Starbucks. The conference room. Pottery Barn. The grocery store. It seemed that everywhere I went I ran into women that would randomly, without prompting, start telling me about their husbands. He’s indifferent. We never have sex. He doesn’t come home at night. He has a “friend.” He feels like a failure. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He drinks/works/gambles/flirts/lies too much. He doesn’t even like me.
In most cases, I listened. There were other times that I had to leave, so I simply asked, “Have you thought about counseling?”
I am not now, nor have I ever claimed to be a licensed counselor; I don’t plan to become a licensed counselor anytime in the foreseeable future; and we are currently not seeing a counselor. However, over the course of six years, we saw 11 different licensed family and marriage counselors. ELEVEN! That’s nearly one every six months, not counting the breaks we took.
Looking back, counseling didn’t work for us for a number of reasons. 1) We weren’t always 100 percent honest. 2) I thought counseling could fix us. 3) There are some bad counselors out there that give bad advice. 4) I may or may not have had a few very minor, like minuscule, psychotic breaks in a few sessions. 5) Counselors only provide advice based on what they see and hear for one hour each week, not the other 167 hours in the week.
So why do I still ask women if they have thought about counseling? Because it provides a safe place to say the tough stuff. Period. A counselor isn’t going to fix your problems, but they are going to listen, even the bad ones. The tools they provide can help, and in some cases they can hurt. Their advice, like mine, is mainly based on observation and their own biased experiences. I stand behind that statement. Yes, there is training. Yes, there is education. But counselors are human. They carry their own baggage and struggle with their own issues. But, they can provide a safe place.
If you are struggling in your marriage and you have young kids, then chances are you aren’t talking about the struggles in your marriage, at least not when you both have the energy to listen and to be heard. Don’t wait until the end of the day when you’re both exhausted, stressed out, and desperately needing time for yourselves to start a hard conversation. That isn’t going to turn out well, and you’ll both likely say things that you will inevitably regret later on.
If you find yourself with limited bandwidth, go to counseling. Not for the advice. Not to fix your marriage. Not to find hope. Not to be released. But to have a safe place to say the tough stuff. To scream without fear of needing counseling for your children later in life. To be vulnerable with someone that is legally bound to keep your confidence. To cry. To be heard. That is the best thing that counseling can offer. And one day we might need to go back to counseling, just to even our list out at a dozen…or a baker’s dozen if that one doesn’t work out.