It’s been said that we do not see things in the world as they are, we see the world as we are. Perception is reality for most of us, and our perceptions regarding our marriages or romantic relationships are no different. We view our relationship in the context of ourselves. We are the antagonists in our stories and it’s easy to become blind the implicit details shared in the dynamic world shared between couples.
It can be difficult to shine a light on our own behaviors and patterns that are causing distress or grief in a marriage. As a relationship grows, so do the blind spots; and conversely, as the relationship ages in years, our own self-accountability tends to decrease.
One of the biggest benefits of couples counseling is allowing a third party perspective to shine a light on those places that may have been overlooked or unseen. I want to focus on the two-tiered benefits of couples counseling and how it can increase your self-accountability and help give shape to the blind spots in your life.
I should mention that not every couple I have seen has had problems with accountability or blind spots, but more often than not these two elements tend to be at the core of the problem and the solution. Whether the problem is infidelity, an emotional affair, communication problems, losing that spark, feelings like roommates, or parenting woes, the problems and solutions are drowning in the same ocean.
Unfortunately, the water is filled with regret, vulnerability, and the reality that you have a larger part to play than you would readily like to admit. Fortunately, once you begin to walk into the tempest you begin to reawaken the parts of yourself that have been hidden or dormant.
The process can be one of enlightenment and can have a systemically positive effect in more areas than just your marriage. I cannot speak for other therapists but at the root of my process, I try to lead my people through the waters so they can return to the shore a new person.
But returning to the shore is the end of the journey, let’s back up and talk about the waters. Imagine a couple standing in front of a home they are about to remodel. The husband has no carpentry experience and the wife is not inclined to hire for outside help. So the couple begins the process of tearing down and building up.
The fights become more frequent and the romancing becomes more irregular. What was supposed to be a fun and invigorating experience has now led them into a shadowy season of life. The couple can remember a time when they would watch Fixer Upper and talk about how fun and great that looked on TV.
They can remember the hours talking about the process of working together and making some extra cash. They can remember the process of buying their first home. What they don’t remember is the process of looking deep within themselves to find their strengths and weaknesses and deciding how best to use and cultivate them. Instead, they are disappointed and show contempt for one another because their partner’s shortcomings are so obviously illustrated with every mistake they make.
So how does this relate to the benefits of couples counseling? The story is emblematic of the season of life many couples enter therapy in. where there was once happiness, now there is unrest. A couple who is lost in the land of confusion has the ability to seek advice and counsel, but normally people turn to people they trust. Intuitively this makes perfect sense.
Go to the people you have seen solve problems or know from first-hand experience that they provide a clear and pointed direction. They are free. They already know your history and can see your problem within the context of your life story. Makes sense, right?
Let me challenge that notion. With all the added benefits of seeking counsel from friends and family, there are as many obstacles involved. When someone you love is asking for advice surrounding an issue you have already spent time thinking and debating with yourself about then the stakes become inevitably higher.
For instance, let’s say you have a sister that comes to you for advice about a problem surrounding her marriage. It is a well-known fact that your sister has a long history of suicidal behavior and that she also has a very heavy hand with your brother-in-law. Let’s say she is asking for very specific counsel regarding an area of the relationship where it is common knowledge that she is the foundational source of the problem.
In this thought experiment, how many conflicts of interest are you able to see? There are the obvious ones, but of course, there are ones that might be too implicit or masked to catalog. The challenge in giving or getting advice, especially relationship advice, is that three people are a part of the story now. What was once a unified line between two people now becomes a triangle and like that area around Bermuda, it is easy to get lost in.
Someone might be reading this now and thinking, “Oh no, I always give honest advice to people and never hold back from giving the truth.” You may know this person or be this person. Honest advice is hard to hear and more often than not when people get advice, they resent themselves and the person giving it no matter how compelling or effective the guidance is. The bottom line is that the closer the person is to you the more vulnerable both of you are.
Have you ever tried to shed light on someone’s blind spots or tried to hold someone more accountable for their behaviors and actions? This is certainly an everyday parental task, but how about this conversation with your mother, husband, or work friend? It is a delicate dance. Many have tried and failed and few are able to walk the tightrope of loving concern and presumptuous solicitor.
The burden is heavy for the advisor and advisee. Counseling offers the platform for unencumbered honesty and exploration. When clients come and see me I never plan on giving direct advice, instead, I plan on indirectly leading them to the path that they already know somewhere deep inside needs to be tread.
Deep within the cracks and crevices of the human mind lies the ability to recognize the elements of accountability and blind spotting. The key is that the path taken to discover these places is more important than the destination.
People walk through life making the same mistakes over and over. The family and friends of this person shake their heads and ask, “When will they learn?” They have been told countless times that if they continue to do ABC then the outcome will always be the same. Still, they continue to withstand the advice and walk down the path they know so well.
Then one day they are told the same thing (advice) but in a different light. It all makes sense to them now, and they are able to see the error of their ways and take the steps everyone has been begging them to take for years. Most have been privy to watching a similar set of events unfold and most people scratch their heads in bewilderment. “Why didn’t they just listen when they were younger? I told him a thousand times, and now he gets it?”
Sometimes it’s impossible to make sense out of nonsense, but deep within the wreckage is a small voice waiting to be heard and waiting to speak the words they know they need. This can often be the voice of God gently whispering. It takes a patient and calm mind to hear the words.
Often times I wonder why it is that people report feeling better so soon after starting therapy. I believe a lot of it has to do with allowing yourself the space to contemplate the deep and dark places of yourself in peace and unhinged from the noise around them. It is in this place that your voice is able to speak softly and gently.
So, what is the benefit of couples counseling? It’s the ability to say to yourself that you are important enough to have your thoughts heard and validated. It is saying to yourself that you’re ready to examine the unexamined. It is taking the steps towards shining a light on the hidden expanse and being brave enough to walk through the door.
“Holding Fingers:, Courtesy of Snapwire, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Going Under”, Courtesy of Emiliano Arano, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Mirror in the Woods”, Courtesy of Marianna Mercado, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Admiring the View”, Courtesy of B Schus, Pexels.com, CC0 License