I don’t think it’s a secret that I like to talk about my feelings. This whole site is basically a portal dedicated to my feelings. Have you noticed? (I’m pretty sure the toddler I used to nanny who can’t read and can hardly talk has noticed.)
When we started premarital therapy a few weeks ago, I figured it would be a fun time to talk about our feelings and dig into why we are the way that we are. GOOD TIMES! On the surface, that’s what it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it certainly isn’t always fun…so I’ve learned. Digging requires muscles we don’t often flex, and it causes blisters to form and pop. It’s uncomfortable and tiresome and reveals weaknesses you didn’t realize you had.
Of course, that wasn’t going to be my experience, though. I went into therapy knowing, not just thinking, that I was a communication-savvy queen. After all, I will let you know EVERY time I am upset. Communication! I will tell you every last feeling and emotion from my day. Savvy! John’s okay, too; I mean, maybe he could learn a thing or two from our therapist, but me? I’ve got this partnering thing down.
Relationships are fascinating because, unless you voluntarily sign up for something like therapy, they are in a vacuum. Never will an unbiased, third-party resource evaluate, comment on, and suggest tweaks for your relationship unless you seek it out. What better time to get the biggest reality check of your partnership than before you bind your future to someone forever, right?
We did a relationship assessment before our first session for our counselor to gauge what our interests, priorities, communication, and coping patterns are like. We’re on the same page for several things (phew), but it also came back that we are both fairly stubborn and controlling about certain things, too.
I was like, Duh, I know he’s stubborn. He was a lawyer in a past life. Everyone who’s talked to him for 10 seconds knows that. But me? I’m just right a lot. My feelings are always warranted. And, oh yeah, I get the final say in all the things. That’s healthy and normal, right, doc?
John and I have both been confronted with some uncomfortable ways we deal with things. (I won’t go into John’s as much because I don’t think that’s fair here.) My strong emotions, which, like I said, I am not afraid to share, often steer our arguments and force him to shut down how he truly feels and apologize just to make me feel better. On some level, I knew that I did that, but getting to the root of why I do that, and how to shift that behavior, is something I truly believe only a professional could unearth.
Is this really the way we want to function for the rest of our lives? Like any couple, we have our problems and the main ones seem to repeat themselves. My relationship is something I want to honor and respect. It’s a growing, evolving thing, and just like anything else that is maturing, it needs guidance and reassurance from another perspective.
Having an outside observer has also helped us to realistically approach the differences in our personalities. I know there have been times when I get frustrated by John’s analytical or super-safe tendencies, and he doesn’t always like my intense plan-organize-GO routines, especially on an early Saturday morning. Our therapist is giving us tools on understanding each other’s backgrounds better and learning to bend sometimes for the sake of the other person and the happiness of both of us.
She’s helped us to realize that, when we fight, it isn’t me versus him; it’s us versus the problem. She taught us about four fighting tactics that habitually lead to divorce, and what kind of language and techniques to use to fight gracefully, instead. To me, this was comforting that she almost gave us permission to fight. Realistically, I know that all couples fight, but anytime we fought prior to therapy, I’d let my emotions throw me into a whirlwind of shame and failure, like we shouldn’t be doing this if we want to be a “successful” couple.
As much as we both knew we had our differences, it has been enormously helpful to go through why we are different and learn about ways to understand each other. Doing this in the same place, at the same time, with no distractions every week, and with someone prompting us to think about the roots of a lot of our behaviors that could end up hurting our relationship has been an absolute game changer. We have read books and listened to podcasts and had our own one-on-one discussions about some of these deeper issues; we’ve also ignored or not noticed some of them, which is almost worse. But getting personalized advice that doesn’t lean more toward him or toward me is something every couple who wants a lasting relationship should try. Big words here, but I believe it’s almost a foolish disservice to your relationship to not do premarital therapy. No couple is on the same exact page in every aspect, and this is a way to check in, learn more about each other, and protect your relationship from cracks that can lead to massive gaps down the line.
If you want to try premarital (or solo or just couples) therapy, many churches and universities have pretty affordable (or free!) programs. Psychology Today‘s website also has an incredibly detailed database of therapists in every city, and you can filter religion, gender, experience, etc. of the therapists on there.
Photo by our fabulous wedding photographer, Gloria Goode
Striped wrap dress: Lulus
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