It could be that you’re starting to sense a widening gulf between you and your spouse as you Facebook beside each other after (finally) getting the kids to bed. Maybe there is a dim heaviness in these moments you’ve just started to notice. Maybe it got worse when the kid arrived. Maybe that’s when it started. Either way, somewhere in the excuses of exhaustion and long work days there’s … something that’s not due to either of those things.
Marital strife after having a kid is a lot more common than anyone probably wants to admit. There are a depressingly hefty number of reasons couples seek counseling, many of which you might not have considered, including:
- Your communication sucks. Talks over serious or difficult issues become less talky, more shouty dumpster fires of misunderstanding.
- Family issues. You think her brother is a dick. She leans into the mom “jokes” she makes a tad too aggressively.
- Your kid’s acclimated. If they just passively turn up the volume on Paw Patrol when you fight, that’s not a good sign.
- Affection. It’s gone-zo.
- Clashing styles. She’s a tiger mom, you’re a llama dad, and neither of you respects the other’s opinion (or eating habits).
- All you have in common is the kid. Who is this person sitting across from me at Olive Garden? What do they think about stuff? How do they feel about things? Do they feel about things?
- The other thing. Maybe you can’t put your finger on it, but something’s missing alright.
If you recognize any of these emotional arrows pointing you towards couples counseling, don’t freak out. The irresponsible thing would be to just let all of this simmer for years until you find yourself Kevin Spacey-ing out with a joint and a set of free weights in the garage. The responsible thing is the counseling thing.
So let’s pull the curtain back a bit on the mystery that is couples counseling. The fact is that it’s not just meant to tackle big hairy issues like infidelity (though it can). It can often be used to find out what the hell the issue is in the first place.
The key is the counselor, and you’ll want to ask them a lot of questions before you sign up. Ask about the process, the kinds of things that will be brought up, whether you’ll be asked to have separate sessions at any point, and the methodology — so you’re not blindsided by surprise nude-synchronized rebirthing therapy.
Once you’ve found your counselor, understand they’re primarily a mediator. They will most likely start by asking why you’re there and progress to questions about the history of disputes and how the issues are appearing symptomatically in your life.
All of this will not be fun. It’s not really meant to be. You might fight right there in the office (although this time you’ll have a ref). You might just seethe. You might uncover issues you didn’t even know you had. The point is to be present and honest with your discussion and the process.
Know that sometimes the focus of counseling becomes not fixing the relationship, but how to let it go. Sometimes it is incredibly helpful to walk the two of you through that. You’ll need to have that help. On the brighter side, very often resolutions can be reached and relationships repaired. It may take months, maybe even years, but it can and does happen. Fixing a broken relationship is work, but fortunately for you and your spouse, you already have the single best motivation for putting in the effort. And they’re (finally) sleeping soundly in the other room, dreaming of brighter days, just like you.