I have a friend and fellow therapist who is “taking the plunge”and getting married this summer. I saw her over the weekend, and I am so excited for her. Another therapist and I were sharing some of our advice, as therapists….as well as married people.
This past September, I celebrated my 21st wedding anniversary! And over the years, my husband and I have attended some marriage conferences and trainings and retreats and events. We have read some books and have quite a library of marriage resources. A few years ago, the two of us became facilitators of a marriage class through Family Dynamics Institute, although we only facilitated one class. He and I have gone through training to be marriage mentors at one time with a local program. You could say the two of us believe in the institute of marriage and maybe some would even bestow upon us the title of being (or at least close to) “experts”. And if I told you we had a perfect marriage, I would be lying. We have certainly had plenty of struggles…..I mean BIG struggles….I mean devastating and HUGE struggles. So, I have been sorting through my EXPERIENCE as well as some of the incredible knowledge I’ve imparted from a multitude of professionals and experts on marriage. And I do have some thoughts….
- First of all, GET YOURSELF HEALTHY! A few years back, we heard Dr. Les Parrott speak a couple times and he stated that he and Neil Clark Warren (co founder of a successful dating website) determined the best dating advice they could give is: “Get yourself healthy before you get yourself married.” They talk about how so many people expect marriage to be the healing force for them, the way to become “complete,” but that this type of thinking only causes problems. Of course, I am paraphrasing and if you want to learn more…perhaps search the Parrott’s website (husband and wife team speaking/teaching on marriage). As a counselor, I would like to add that this concept doesn’t end with marriage. Sure, it would be ideal if you got yourself healthy before you got married….but what do you do if you ended up getting married and weren’t healthy…maybe you didn’t realize how deep your problems were…maybe something has happened within your marriage or after your marriage that has created pain that has festered and here you are unhealthy AFTER your marriage. Get yourself healthy now! If both of you have healing that needs to be had, and you are the only one interested….do it alone! Healing is a difficult journey! It is hard work and requires commitment and intention! But it is a journey worth taking! Find yourself a counselor. A good one! If you don’t like the one you try, try another. Every counselor has their own theories and approaches in counseling, but they can facilitate some incredible healing. I can tell you, though, the most success I’ve seen with individuals in counseling is when the client gets serious about healing and follows through with recommendations by the professional! A good counselor guides you, you do the work….and it doesn’t have to be in your 45 minutes once a week….ideally SHOULDN’T be! Healthy people have counselors (that should be on my business cards)! Look for groups you can be a part. If you suffer from addictions, find a group that is for your particular addiction. If you’re the child of an alcoholic or addict or have a close friend who is one, or if you are married to one (even if they are in recovery), chances are really good that some bad habits have surfaced in you that has led to some of the problems you may have now, find a good Al-Anon group. If you have suffered from sexual abuse as a child or adult, check with your local women’s shelter or crisis center, see if they have any support groups you could get involved in. Check around, there may be self-help groups you didn’t even realize were available at churches or with a non-profit agency that would be a good fit. Much like with finding a counselor, use discernment. You want a good fit and there may be other options. But also keep in mind, if it feels uncomfortable it could be that the hurt is speaking to you and wants to keep hiding. We gotta face that hurt, walk through that brokenness….to find that healing. And if all of that falls through, there are some good books out there that might help…often with practical exercises, mostly journaling types of things. One of my favorite books that I recommend often to clients is Why You Do the Things You Do. It is a book written by Christian counselors, but the psychological information is applicable, even if you don’t consider yourself a Christian. I recommend it to many clients and it insightful regarding our “relationship style.” There are many others, books and workbooks, that you could try. So get yourself healthy….get a counselor, find a group, or dig into some books and do the exercises….journal, journal, journal! Or better yet, do all three!
- Second, recognize that marriage is hard work. At my wedding, a great friend and mentor said to me, “the work is just beginning….this is hard work.” As you may know, you are floating through the air at your wedding and no one can burst that bubble. Are you kidding me? This is gonna be so much fun….we are going to be so happy….we are IN LOVE!!! Little did I know, that advice has probably been some of the best advice I ever received. Let’s get real, shall we….it is not easy to live with ANYONE, right? Even the best of friends who spend tons of time together can decide to become roommates and all of a sudden, something happens and you learn more than you ever wanted to about the friend….all illusion or fantasy is gone the minute you walk into a bathroom and their clothes are all over the floor….or they leave their dishes in the sink forever….or they just plain become annoying. Marriage aside, have you ever experienced this phenomenon? You thought you were best friends until you spent a week together or shared an apartment together and found out….maybe not. Sometimes those relationships can be repaired….sometimes they never are. So, you gotta work at the relationship. Once, my husband and I were reviewing some questions (an exercise to open communications with your spouse). The question was, “What is the foundation of your marriage?” We talked it through and we came up with commitment. Sometimes, one of us is more committed than the other. Sometimes, both of us are hanging on by our toenails. And then sometimes, we are both on the same page, both committed, both determined! But the thread that keeps us together is that commitment. There are other nice things that fill in the gap….love, affection, respect, spirituality….but when it is just the toenails hanging on….my friend, it has been the commitment that has held us. Commitment to what, you ask? Well, commitment to do the work. It could be simply commitment to stay married one more day or one more month….it could be commitment to find healing either one of us or both of us together….or….it could be commitment to learning new and more and better skills….
- And that leads to the third and final point, become a student of marriage. No one can possibly know all there is to know about marriage, even the professionals and experts. Your marriage is fluid….it is constantly changing because you are each growing and changing! So even when you think you finally know what you need to know….finally feel like you “get it”….something will change in your life and new skills could be learned. And, oh my goodness, there are resources galore out there! Books, classes, seminars, events, retreats….there are websites….newsletters….blogs…. Start building a library. A couple good ones (there are SO MANY, this is a drop in the bucket): Love & Respect, Becoming One, Men are Like Waffles–Women are Like Spaghetti. Commit to going to a marriage building event once or twice a year. Find a marriage class in your area. Attend a marriage building weekend. Devoting your life to being a perpetual student of marriage, specifically your own, will reap you so many rewards!
What are some marriage books you have read and recommend? What are some books you would like to read? What classes have you attended or want to attend? Has anyone been to a marriage building weekend event? I recently read about a cruise…how cool would that be?