When I was in grade school, I remember hearing the term “marriage counseling” in church. My entire impression of it was that marriage counseling is something people go to when their marriage is basically over and they are trying to buy time before they divorce OR something that couples do after someone commits adultery. It was absolutely NOT something I perceived as a standard, healthy process for couples to use as a tool to enrich their relationship.
Then I met my husband.
Oklahoma has a wonderful program that allows engaged couples to receive a discount on their marriage license if they complete a specified amount of premarital counseling. I’m not going to lie, I was a little afraid of getting married. I was only 20 when I became engaged. Doc was 22. I knew that I was young…really young for marriage. Doc and I both felt like premarital counseling was a good step for us. We wanted to make sure that we’d considered a lot of the major beliefs, ideals, and goals we each had for our lives. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t get married and five years later discover that there was some giant problem for us in our relationship that we hadn’t explored prior to getting married that would be a “deal breaker” or would cause one of us to give up something that was extremely important to us and leave the other resentful.
Needless to say, we used the marriage license discount as an excuse, but really benefitted from the premarital counseling. It gave us a renewed faith that we really were ready for marriage and that we had a shared vision for our future.
After we were married, we went through a lot of ups and downs outside of our relationship. We lost family members, dealt with illness, medical school, financial struggles, and it weighed heavy on me. I ended up seeking therapy to help me cope with all of the new stresses and changes in my life. It gave me so many tools to deal with anxiety and stress. My therapist helped me learn how to recognize signs that I needed to slow down and take better care of myself.
I’ve tried to talk openly about therapy because I think it has been highly beneficial. I see therapy as this beautiful opportunity for individuals, couples, and families to really take care of themselves and better their lives. Your mental health is important. Your relationship’s health is important. Doesn’t it deserve check ups too?
After Rowan died, Doc and I both were really deeply grieving. One of the problems with grieving deeply alongside your partner is that no one grieves the same way. Trying to be supportive for your partner while you are grieving yourself is extremely difficult. Communicating became more difficult. It greatly diminished my self esteem to love someone so much and know that I could not help them because I just wasn’t capable.
So Doc and I decided to go to grief/marriage counseling. We worked on trying to sort of grasp our bearings. A good friend of mine described the feeling in a marriage after the loss of a child like being in a shipwreck. When the ship finally sinks you get pulled under water. You are separated and sent spiraling. You can’t tell which way is up but every day is a fight to try to get to the surface. Once you get there, you start to search for the other person. Sometimes they don’t get to the top at the same time. You wonder if they’ll come up for air at all. You just want to find each other.
And that’s what we wanted. All along we just wanted to get to the top and find each other. Therapy helped us navigate our way through this ocean of grief. We needed someone to help us figure out which way was up.
I’m happy to say that after about three months of really hard work I feel like we have managed to do that. We just needed a guide.
So here is more of me being open about therapy. Counseling. It’s a spectacular tool. It took a lot of courage to say “I want help” for both of us. There is some stigma still surrounding therapy but I hope it continues to dissipate. I hope my Little Bird goes through her childhood and adolescence thinking that there is true value in seeking help and counsel in life when the people around you cannot provide it. I hope she doesn’t see it as a last ditch effort to solve and unsolvable problem.
I’m willing to fight for myself and for my family, whatever arena that fight takes place in.