4 Myths about Marriage Counseling

4 Myths About Marriage Counseling

©Depositphotos.com/lisafx

As you might imagine, I’ve read a lot about marriage over the last few years. As I got more and more uncomfortable with my relationship I looked in more and more places for answers.

Simple google searches. Books about love and respect, happiness, or love languages. Websites that talk about what makes a happy wife. Small groups of people committed to improving their relationships. And, of course, that weekend in Franklin, Tennessee, in May 2013 that proved unintentionally life changing.

All of these things helped me take control of and improve my marriage. But for a long time, one thing was missing. I didn’t know it at the time, but after interviewing several people for the upcoming podcast (which is in post-production with my show notes guy as I type!) there was one key element missing:

An unbiased neutral facilitator in the same room as my wife and me.

I hadn’t considered it until I got on the line with John G. Miller, the personal accountability guru. When I asked John for his best advice for you and me, his answer shocked me.

John G. Miller is the author of several books, including The Question Behind the Question, Parenting the QBQ Way: How to be an Outstanding Parent and Raise Great Kids Using the Power of Personal Accountability, and Outstanding!: 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional, an awesome book written for organizations but featuring advice that is equally applicable at home, too.

He is the personal accountability guy. That means he knows the why and the how of taking personal responsiblity over things.

But his best advice was to seek a neutral facilitator at times in your marriage. And he confided in us that he and his wife of over 3 decades had done just that.

As you can imagine, when he mentioned a neutral facilitator I listened. And I wondered why I hadn’t considered that before….

In business I’m a big proponent of getting outside opinions. I’ve hired coaches in my professional life. And I coach high potential individuals on how to build strong businesses and successful careers without leaving their families behind.

So why hadn’t I considered it before?

I’ve asked myself that question several times since then. And every time I do, I come up with the same answers.

4 Myths About Marriage Counseling

1. You don’t need it.

For the longest time I thought I didn’t need it. I was a big personal accountability guy. I helped make the mess. I can help clean it up. What would a counselor offer to us that I couldn’t do myself? “If we just [enter any number of things],” then we would be all set. Yet weeks or months would go by and we’d be in the same cycle over and over. We would not put any focus on “our issues,” but rather just get busy with the day-to-day that is raising two kids and managing lives.

But having weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly sessions with a coach or marriage counselor forces you to pause from all that and focus openly on what you can do to improve your relationship. So, yeah, we’ve started doing that. That focus, with someone there to facilitate the conversation, is definitely “needed.”

Sure, some (or all) of what a session with a neutral facilitator could be done by yourselves at home with proper discipline and perspective. But we hadn’t done it yet…. So….

2. Only the weakest couples get it.

If the first part of this post didn’t convince you that this is a myth I don’t know what will. The most successful people in sports and business have coaches, counselors, consultants, and others pouring into them. What makes you think marriage is any different?

3. It means you’re weak.

This was tough for me. I am a personal accountability guy. I am “Mr. Fixit.” What does it say that I can’t fix my marriage alone and need outside help?

It froze me for a while. But, again, if the best in business and sports have outside help, marriage shouldn’t be any different.

In fact, chosing to get outside help is a pretty bold decision in my book.

If anything, making that choice might indicate strength, rather than weakness.

4. It will work like magic.

The thing about any counseling or coaching is that it puts you in the best position to make positive changes in your life.

That’s where the personal accountability comes back into play. No coach or counselor is going to give you all the solutions for your life. They can help guide you and provide you with a safe environment to explore what your current situation is and what might need to be done to improve it.

But your coach or counselor is not going to be around 24/7 to make every choice for you. You need to do that.

Coaching or counseling works best when everyone involved is committed to discussing things openly, accepting guidance, and doing things differently.

A counselor will look in from the outside and suggest ways to improve things that you might not see because you’re too emotionally invested, biased, or both.

The counselor can provide you a roadmap. But you won’t get anywhere unless you follow it.

What other myths about marriage counseling have I missed?

In speaking with several folks who coach or counsel married couples, as well as from being involved in several groups of people who are actively seeking to improve their relationships, one spouse often gets on board with counseling while the other resists.

If you’re that resisting spouse, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself why you resist.

Do you think it shows weakness? Do you think it’s not needed? Are you afraid that it will force you to make an uncomfortable change?

It’s Alright To Cry

It's ok To cry.Today, Joanne Miller hits on a topic near and dear to my heart. I am by my nature a problem solver. That was only exacerbated when I chose a career as a lawyer. So after a lifetime of being a problem solver, I focused an entire undergraduate and graduate education learning how to think and act in a way to solve problems. To say that it’s my go-to reaction is an understatement.

So when my wife just needs me to listen and give her a hug – to let her just vent about something – it’s tough. It has taken years for me to realize that “the issue” is actually not always “the issue.”  “The issue” that I can “solve” is just the latest manifestation of a symptom or trigger for an emotional reaction where she feels that support or understanding might be lacking.

I’m so excited for the men and women reading this post today and hope you share it with people who might need to hear this, like the spouses who might be more emotional, or  the spouses who are Mr. or Ms. Fix-it by nature.  We really can help control situations Joanne describes. But wow is it tough!

A few years ago, while in the throes of some serious introspection I latched onto a word I felt important to me on many levels.  Validation.  Definition: to prove to be valid or sound.  It only took me six decades to discover I had a problem in this area.  Not in administering it but in receiving it.  Could have been worse.  I might never have learned how important this is in a relationship. Discovering this has been a big boost to my self-confidence as a woman, wife, mother and friend.

Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.
Jill Bolte Taylor, author, brain scientist

Here’s how lack of validation plays out.  Are you a husband who, when your spouse is edgy, weepy, angry, or anxious has said (unwittingly), “Don’t cry.” or “You must be crazy!” or “Are you PMS-ing?”  In other words, are you one who doesn’t like to be confronted with feelings and emotions?  Just sweep them under the carpet, ignore them and hope they go away…..quickly!  Well let me tell you that eventually this avoidance will come to bite you in the behind.  Because, like it our not, emotions and feelings are part and parcel of being human.  And it is especially so with women. 

Dan: “I don’t know how to talk to you anymore.  I might either set you off crying or in an angry snit. I feel like I am walking on eggshells around you.” (Now, I know you can relate to this.)

Joanne: (angry and ready for confrontation) “Get used to it!  I’m a girl.  G-I-R-L!  Girls are emotional! Girls have feelings.  I have learned to stuff them all my life and I am tired of it.  Big girls DO cry! They DO get angry! They get sad and depressed.  They need to be able to express those emotions.  If not, they  bring on resentment and even anger.  One day they explode in a volcanic eruption just from a tiny altercation!” 

Dan: “So what do you want me to do? What do you need from me?” (Ah-HAH!  The magic sentence……What do you need from me?)

Joanne:  “This may come as a surprise to you (Ok, that was a bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure) I don’t always know. (now I’m being vulnerable) But whether I know or don’t, it would be wonderful if you could just validate that I have feelings.  Saying, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘How can I help’ or just simply holding me and comforting me is all it takes to make me feel like you are by my side and not challenging me or putting me on the defensive.  Most of the time, that’s all it takes.  Just allowing me to have feelings and not making me feel silly, stupid, crazy or any other label. I sometimes don’t even understand myself.  I need to know you sympathize with my confusion and are there for me when (if) I am ready to talk.”

That conversation really did happen. And I can’t tell you how good it felt to finally be vulnerable enough to express that I don’t always immediately know why I feel emotional but I need to know Dan is there for me. I sometimes just need to be comforted….  We went on to talk more about this and we discussed how difficult it can be just to say a simple, “I’m sorry.” (meaningfully!)

Here is where the confusion lies.  The natural tendency for a man is to love his wife well and to  provide a solution when she is hurting or upset.  Just holding her feels inadequate.  Being the results-oriented man Dan is, he wants to fix me.  Wants me to get over it and move on. I understand that and I know he means well.  It is a tightrope of what to do and what not to do, how to react and how to not react.  (I can hear eyeball rolling here!) But here is the crux of the confusion.  Learn to validate the emotion. Finding a solution or fixing it may come later but first just validate the feelings.  It’s ok to cry, to be angry, to grieve, to be anxious.  Feelings are a part of who we are….male or female. 

My friend, Irene and I talked about this recently.  She and I went through the same book and the same deep introspection at the same time.  She says now her husband will often ask her, “What do you need from me?” after his many failed attempts to fix her when all she needed was to have him hold her and tell her he is there for her if she needs him.  That simple response is sometimes all that is necessary to empower a girl to move forward. Validate the emotion.  It’s as simple as that. 

It’s alright to cry
Crying gets the sad out of you
It’s alright to cry
It might make you feel better
Raindrops from your eyes
Washing all the mad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes
It’s gonna make you feel better
It’s alright to feel things
Though the feelings may be strange
Feelings are such real things
And they change and change and change.

Bell Records, excerpt from Free To Be…You and Me album 1972
Music and lyrics by Carol Hall
Performed by Rosey Grier

Joanne Miller has been happily married for over four decades to career coach and author Dan Miller (48 Days To the Work You Love).  She has authored four children’s books and has a new book for grown ups co-authored with artist Dorsey McHugh called Be Your Finest ArtShe and Dan have three grown children and twelve grandchildren and lots of years living the entrepreneurial roller-coaster life of adventure!

How to speak the same language when you don’t speak the same language

Photo © Depositphotos.com/JanMika

Today’s post is from my friend Isabel Hundt.  Isabel is a coach, speaker and author.  And she has a really unique perspective on communication in marriage that I thought fit in well with this week’s other communication posts, as she and her husband don’t speak the same first language! How do they communicate effectively then?  I’ll let her tell the story.

(P.s. That’s not a picture of Isabel and her husband! It’s just one that looked like it fit well with this topic as they’re clearly from two different countries!)

It is not a secret that my husband and I don’t speak the same first language. If it was, well, we came out of the closet now. When we first met I already spoke English very well. Not many could tell that I am originally from Germany. But that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t know every phrase nor word – and I probably still don’t.

Excuse me?!

In the beginning it was a challenge for the both of us. How often did I hear things like “You don’t say that here in the US.” Really? But I only translated what I know I would have said in German?! What is wrong with that? Not to mention that my husband thought (actually still thinks) that some of my mis-pronunciations were cute and never told me. I, on the other hand, felt like he was making fun of me.

“Oh, that is so American!” was usually the phrase you could hear me say (You can hear the judgment behind that statement.). As you can imagine misunderstandings were part of our daily life. Reason being is that it wasn’t just the language we spoke. Besides the simple fact of having the difference in being a man and a woman (duuhh), there were also the different ways of how we were brought up, different traditions and different cultures. Language is so much more than just words.

When the spoken language gets in the way of communicating appropriately you have to learn to communicate on different levels. It was a big learning curve. There were many situations that ended in frustration and tears.

Through my background in psychology, sociology and coaching, we had the advantage of awareness. This is truly what it takes: Awareness about your personal stories and judgments as well as trust and faith. We learned that we spoke one same language: love. (We actually really do have the same love languages.). My husband and I started to understand that if we wanted to make this marriage work, we had to work on ourselves first no matter what language we spoke.

What is your personal language?

Our “inner language” is what creates the foundation of a successful marriage. The more we understand and honor ourselves the less we are looking for approval or confirmation from our spouse which usually leads to disappointments anyways. Don’t misunderstand approval with showing affection and your love for each other. If we can love ourselves for who we are, we can show even more love to the person we will spend the rest of our lives with. Whatever we focus on within ourselves, we focus on within others. Therefore, knowing myself, my essence, helps me to come from a place I know will create connection instead of disconnection with my husband. The secret to an inter-cultural, inter-gender challenge of speaking different languages of all kinds is to start with your own discovery about yourself. When you know who you are in your greatness and you understand your needs, triggers and personal stories that can either be empowering or self-limiting, you are able to communicate more clearly.

For example, I know about myself that I tend to withdraw if I don’t feel that my needs are met. I let frustration pile up until eventually a huge explosion takes place. I call it the German stubbornness in me. However I have this awareness and do realize that this creates disconnection between me and my husband (or people in general) which does not serve anyone, the least myself. I have the power of choice. I can give into being victim or I can choose from a place that creates connection. Your background or your spoken language is secondary. Your understanding of who you truly are and being open in communication comes first to be able to create powerful and successful relationships. I admit, every single day is a day to practice. We are getting better at it but we can always improve. It is a journey

What judgments and thoughts do you have against your wife/husband (women/men in general) that get in the way of creating strong relationships? (Be honest with yourself).

isabel11Isabel Hundt is a Professional Coach, Speaker & Author. She is known for her revolutionary online coaching program The Dare to Stand Out through which Isabel supports conscious entrepreneurs to find their true identity, their message and mission. To learn more about Isabel you can visit www.thedaretostandout.com or www.isabelhundt.com  where you can also download her free eBook “Identity Crisis in the World of Entrepreneurs.”

Bank On This! (How to Stop Fighting About Money)

How to Stop Fighting About Money

Photo © Depositphotos.com/Goodluz

Today, Joanne Miller joins us again to share how she and Dan have gone years without a money fight. What a perfect follow-up to Derek’s post from Monday!  Be sure to share your money and marriage stories in the comments!

Let’s face it. The number one argument on the frequency scale that most couples have is about money.

I can hear your head nodding as you are reading. I certainly know it was often a bone of contention for us. I lost count of how many Christmas holidays rolled around when Dan and I would have our annual battle over how many gifts I wanted to buy for family members….and friends…..not to mention all the gifts I wanted to pile under our tree from Santa and from us.

Oh yes, money was an issue for us. For many years, in fact.

Until we came up with THE PLAN.

Best thing we ever did for our marriage and if you are a husband reading this, listen up!

Writing from the woman’s point of view, and from a Christian perspective, I think a married woman who doesn’t have her own checking account is a recipe for marital disharmony.

Now I know all the scripture about becoming one flesh and so on. But I don’t really think there is a passage in the Good Book that addresses separate versus joint bank accounts. And for many years I never considered having my own account. After all, I didn’t have a job outside the home so I didn’t have income. So why would I have a checking account?

We always had a joint account but that meant everything I spent I was accountable for. And vice versa. Everything had to be justified and talked about and sometimes argued about. But once Dan and I figured out THE PLAN, we haven’t had a money argument in years.

Not a one. THE PLAN really works!

THE PLAN

First we looked at an average of our monthly output on groceries including toiletries, cleaning and laundry products which were sometimes bought at separate stores.

We itemized what I spent on getting my hair done, manicures, pedicures (these were AFTER the kids were out of the house. Before that I did my own), and we estimated what I needed for gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.

We looked at what we spent on clothes and shoes and estimated that for a year and after totaling up all those expenses, we came up with a yearly total, divided that by twelve months and padded it a little for unexpected needs and came up with a monthly figure we could both agree on.

We decided I would “get paid” twice a month, the first and the fifteenth. I didn’t have to ask for it, it was just given to me in a check or transferred into my account. As the years have passed, I have occasionally asked for a pay increase and sometimes even had to have an advance. But this system was so freeing for both of us that I don’t think we ever made a more important change in our habits that has so greatly relieved stress and frustration.

Here’s why THE PLAN was important in our marriage.

Every time I needed money, whether it was for some extra groceries, school supplies for the kids, a gift for a baby shower, I felt like a little child going to my Daddy asking if he could please give me the money.

It felt demeaning to me. Sometimes I would feel on the defensive and like I had to justify why I needed this money and hope he approved. Our discussions about money were always frustrating to both of us.

When we decided to have me open my own account I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I no longer have to ask for money.

I keep my checkbook balanced to the penny and I know how to stretch a dollar that makes my husband proud. If I want to buy a gift for a friend or take a grandchild to the movie I don’t have to wonder where the money will come from.

I manage my own finances and it is a great feeling. I don’t handle the mortgage, gas in my car (he knows I hate to fill up), insurance, and major purchases for the house or a car. Dan handles that.

Now at Christmas I have money to spend however I want because I even have my own savings account. We still have a joint account and Dan has his various business accounts.

I happily “get paid” twice monthly and account only to myself for how that is spent. Yep! Best thing we ever did for our marriage. It’ll make you feel like a real grown up.

I highly recommend it.

Joanne Miller has been happily married for over four decades to career coach and author Dan Miller (48 Days To the Work You Love).  She has authored four children’s books and has a new book for grown ups co-authored with artist Dorsey McHugh called Be Your Finest ArtShe and Dan have three grown children and twelve grandchildren and lots of years living the entrepreneurial roller-coaster life of adventure!