My wife and I started marriage counseling this week . . .
We’ve been married for almost 23 years so you’d think we would have this thing figured out by now, but we don’t. This summer we are supposed to become empty nesters, launching our fourth out into the world as he begins college at Purdue University. Instead, we likely will be adding our daughter who is 29 back into our home in a few weeks. She comes with two sons (5 and 4 months). A third, her oldest who is 10, has been living with us in our custody since he was born. All three dads (yes three baby daddies) are in prison.
None of this is exactly the reason why we are going to marriage counseling, but it points to at least a bit of the difficult relationship dynamics we’ve had going on in our home for more than while.
Most guys wouldn’t probably start this way, but I’m pretty excited about this counseling experience. We’ve tried marriage counseling a couple of times in the past over the years, but never with a real licensed marriage and family therapist. In the past we have seen more of generalist counselors or sought pastoral-type care – and never anything really more than a couple of sessions. The other issue is that in the past I think we both probably approached marriage counseling as an opportunity to fix the person sitting next to us (I know this was always my perspective – “‘Cause their ain’t nothin’ wrong with this guy!”). This time around I am really interested in figuring out how both of have added difficulty to our lives in the way we interact with each other and with our family
Our issues are really just that we can’t get along a lot of the time. We seem to have come to a point of resentment toward one another so that we don’t really accept anything the other has to say, except that it probably is some sort of criticism. This is a viscous, and for any marriage, a dangerous downhill spiral.
We don’t beat on each other. We don’t cheat on each other (well we don’t anymore – but that is for another time maybe). We just seem to have a hard time loving each other well. I think both of us feel as though some basic needs of love and affection are not being met in our relationship. I’m not just talking bot sex (that has been limited) but rather connection, emotional care, increasing each other’s feelings of worth in the relationship, stuff like this. It seems like we really can’t talk about it anymore because talking leads to feelings of blame which leads to defensiveness and to more resentment. You get the picture.
I’ve been gone for two of the last four years. I’m in the military so I can’t help being absent sometimes. But when I’m physically gone, it’s also easy for me to check out emotionally as well – this part I have to own. I have absolutely allowed my own feelings to lead me to neglect good communication and care toward my wife while I’ve been away. These separations are hard, but even harder for us seems to be the coming back together again. It’s hard to know how hard, how fast and just “how” in general to push back in after being gone for so long. If I sit back and allow what has been going on while I’m gone to continue I’m told I’m not re-engaging. If I push in too much I’m told, “We managed this all last summer fine, I know how to do this.” It’s more complicated than just this, and I know my approach could be different at times (I’m pretty blunt). I think the one good summary of this is that I under communicate my feelings and my wife (in my estimation) over communicates. Said another way, my wife says what is on her mind, and I hold my thoughts in.
On top of this I was diagnosed with major depression after my 2011 deployment to Afghanistan. I’ve been trying to get a grip on it since (don’t worry I’m getting lots of good professional help).
My wife and I really are committed to our marriage as well as to the institution of marriage. From a faith perspective, we both truly believe that God has some very strong intentions for marriage that he is continually working out in us (and in every married couple). We also, both have parents who have been married for over fifty years (yes, I guess there is some subtle family pressure there – not to be outdone by the old folks). But most importantly we both really do love each other. To be honest sometimes these feeling of love don’t seem to be present for either of us, but the commitment toward one another to care for one another is there even if we can’t really seem to figure out how to care for each other like the other wants. I think this last point is actually THE point. We need to figure out how to love the other in a way the other wants to be loved (Gary Chapman wrote about this concept is his very famous series The 5 Love Languages – but I really think most marriages fail because we don’t realize how deeply this issue penetrates).
So my hope in marriage counseling is that we both will find some opportunities to learn to better communicate our needs to the other, and will learn to better respond to the needs of the other. This is rooted in communication and selflessness – my hope for myself is to become better at both.
I gave you all that to give you this: Our assignment after our first session.
- Specific concerns to address (prioritized)
- Positives – strengths and resources for self, partner and relationship
- Ideal – if things were perfect how would they be different / better
I’m really interested in the third question. I have my ideas. What does your relationship look like on an ideal day?
When I come up with my list I’ll post it – stay tuned.