Happy anniversary to us!
My husband and I recently celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary! On that day, I performed the social media ritual of posting a throwback photo of our wedding. Captured in that sepia-toned photo were two joyful people, kids really, preparing for a journey they knew little about.
We may have looked like a couple of kids... but we were old enough to vote. My husband touched on something important when looking back on that day: you do need to vote. Every day you need to vote/choose to be a couple. The wedding day is all cake and laughter, but the choice to be with one person for the rest of your life, for better or worse, is hard work.
Getting through the rough patches
Everyone gets thrown some curve balls in life. And when you are married, you are not only dealing with your own curve balls, but you are also dealing with your partner’s.
When I think back through the past 18 years, I reflect on some pretty hard times. The stress of having young kids, worrying about finances and health scares, and balancing that with a busy career can leave little time or energy for anything else. Even date night can start feeling like a chore. Honestly, neither of us were very fun to live with in those days.
Thankfully, things have gotten easier over the years. However, we often reflect on how thankful we are for making it through those times and not giving up on us. It’s definitely tempting to run away in those dark moments. Instead of giving up, we decided to go to couples counseling.
We voted to be a couple.
Taking the leap
Going to counseling wasn’t an easy step to take. So many fear-based thoughts went through my mind that almost prevented us from asking for help… Going to couple’s therapy meant our marriage was a failure… Maybe we can work things out on our own... or What if it doesn’t work? Ultimately, I realized that sometimes even the strongest people can use some outside help.
Considering all the objections my mind came up with, I’m thankful that we chose to seek help.
What couples counseling taught us
Couples counseling helped us change the way we communicate with each other. We learned to recognize our pattern of fighting that got us stuck in a negativity spiral. We were encouraged to look beyond the content of what we were saying and doing, and focus more on the process of how we were interacting with each other.
I never would have thought that a stranger could be the answer to our problems… that an outsider could hear the details of our specific situation, and use our story to guide us closer to each other.
But here we were.
We got to the heart of what we were feeling and what we needed from each other. When we started communicating from our needs and genuine intentions, it was easier to hear what the other person was saying. We started feeling heard and understood. We were able to express our hurt and pain, and look into each other’s eyes and see that our pain hurt our partner, too.
Those moments were healing and it made it easier to vote for each other.
Is this you?
As a marriage counselor on the other side of the room, I see many couples who clearly love (or loved) each other, but they have waited so long to come to therapy. Could it be that the inevitable hurts and resentments that naturally come with spending a life with someone have hardened you and built up a wall between you and your partner?
This wall can get in the way of your ability to vote yes for your marriage.
We can do something about that.
Tearing down the wall
In a marriage, while you and your partner are so interconnected through kids, shared memories, and assets, you can also build walls between yourselves when it comes to your own needs. Although the wall might have protected you in many ways from your hurts, it has also caused isolation and loneliness, which hurts even more.
Sometimes the task of breaking through that pain feels insurmountable, and you might give up hope. Separating from each other can be the right thing for you, despite the shared experiences and love you had for each other. But for others of you, there is light on the other side of this marital hardship. Having the strength to walk through the hardship is what is needed to see that light, and feel the connection and happiness you once felt.
I’m voting for you
Going to marriage counseling is like voting yes for your marriage. It can give you the extra support you need to walk through the darkness and come through on the other side. It takes hard work, but just like marriage itself, it can be well worth the work.
Let me know when you’re ready to come in and vote. I’ll be here.
Kristin O’Hara is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps couples find love and connection in their relationship. She also helps people struggling with midlife transitions. She spent her anniversary relaxing with her husband, reflecting back on their many years of joys, sorrows and wonderful shared memories.