Should Marriage Be Hard?

I’m assuming I’m not the only one who’s ever heard this, right? “Marriage is hard work.” It’s as ubiquitous a saying as, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” or, “What goes around comes around.” And I don’t like it. I don’t like that marriage has a bad rep as something difficult, something that has to be endured. Marriage rates have continued to lower, especially amongst a younger demographic (Hi millennials!), and I’m not surprised, because a culture that is increasingly obsessed with instant gratification is really going to shy away from one more thing that looks hard. 

And “marriage is hard” isn’t a new concept. Each generation has faced its own unique set of challenges, and the saying has continued. Divorce rates, while still high have been in decline since the 80’s, and there is a lot of speculation as to why. Delayed age of marriage plays some part in couples being less-likely to divorce, and it’s likely that the US economy plays a part as well, but even though marriages are statistically doing better, the stigma tends to sound the same. Marriage anecdotes still sway towards the negative, and when it doesn’t, there’s often a tone of judgement, “They just don’t know yet,” “They’re still newlyweds,” “Just wait, you’ll get sick of your spouse soon enough.” It’s hard for people to be happy for happy people. 

But we all want to be happy people right? When people come to therapy we look a lot at specific goals, but the theme is usually, “I just want to be happier!” And I want to help people be happier. I want people to be happy whether single, dating, monogamous, polyamorous, married, etc. and I want people to stop believing that a marriage license is a certificate for unhappiness. 

So how do we do this? How do we make sure that our marriages are happier? 

  1. Start at the beginning: in the dating phase. Far too often I hear from people who make dating sound like a life long commitment. For a lack of better terms, they are putting up with a lot of bull shit for someone they have no real commitment to yet. If it’s been less than a year and you find yourself more sad than happy, it might be time to call it a day. Don’t be afraid to break up and move on, because while time can heal many wounds, time can also bring new and harder life challenges, and if you are already strained, it’s only going to get worse. 
  2. Be really honest with yourself: While some of dating is about putting your best for forward, there is going to come a time where the really, ugly, only likes to shower once a week and never puts dishes in the dishwasher side comes out. If you’ve spent all of your dating life hiding that, and then once marriage hits, you let it all go, that is a recipe for resentment. With that being said, I’m not proposing acting like a total slob right out of the gate either. Find a middle ground where you can be your best self, and sustain it. For the long haul. And don’t lie in your online dating profile. If you’ve never camped or hiked a day in your life, there’s no need to click the “outdoorsy” box. It won’t win you life points. 
  3. Think about the end goal: Marriage might not be that for you. Maybe you only ever see yourself in consensual non-monogamy, you’re asexual and want a child raising partner, or you would prefer to be a solo world travel blogger. That’s cool. Just get real with yourself, and don’t assume that you have to give marriage a try because of external pressures. Being a square peg in a round hole is painful, and you don’t have to do it. And if marriage is for you, be honest about that too. Don’t try and change someone who doesn’t want that, because you’ll end up spending the length of your marriage trying to convince someone it’s worth it, and again that’s a painful process. 

If you’re already married and feel like it’s too late, it might not be. Couples therapy isn’t for everyone, but in so many cases it’s the recipe for success. The problems that continue to cycle back around can often be worked through, and when they are you can find yourself being that happy couple that everyone envies. Find a way to break out of the “hard work” and find a place where you can enjoy each other and just enjoy being in love. 

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Finding the Right Therapist

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In the journey to become a therapist it is a well-known phenomenon that a family member will inevitably say, “You could start with us!” The good-natured joke gets a laugh (the first 50 times), but at some point we have the obligation to clarify the ethical mandate: No treating friends and family. To be more specific, therapists should not see clients with whom they have a dual relationship. For example: Met in a daily yoga class, share friends or relatives, live next door to one another. The lines can get a little blurry, and in some instances dual relationships are unavoidable, but for the most part we all do our best to avoid circumstances that could lead to bias.

Over the years I have had friends and family approach me about how to find a therapist, and what they should look for. While the end decision is ultimately up to them, there are some options that can simplify the process when searching.

  1. Insurance or Cash?

Deciding this right off the bat will save you a lot of phone calls. If you are set in going through your insurance, you will want to only look at providers who are “in-network.” Your insurance company provides this list, and you can use that to narrow down. If your plan is a PPO, or you have great coverage, you can also look at providers who bill “out of network.” As a provider who does not contract with insurance companies (for reasons I can include in my next post), I always give the option of a “superbill” for PPO clients. This allows the client to receive some reimbursement directly from their insurance company. If you decide to forego using insurance, disregard the above jargon, and move to number 2.

  1. Start with a search engine

PsychologyToday.com is a great resource for narrowing down providers by region, specialty, and theoretical orientation. GoodTherapy.org is similar. There are several others, and one option is to google: Therapist finder. These sites have profiles of their therapists where you can get a feel for their personality and treatment style.

  1. What is your main reason for seeking therapy?

What are you experiencing that led you to this point? Search for someone whose specialty or area of interest is aligned with your specific need. Don’t seek out someone who works with complex trauma if you are dealing with career stress. If you are having marital distress, look for someone who specializes in couple’s therapy or relationships. All MFTs are trained in working with depression and anxiety, so if that is your area of need, you can look for someone whose message sounds welcoming to you.

  1. Choose a few

Make a list of 3-5 therapists who you think you would feel comfortable with, and start calling. Expect that most will return calls within 24 hours Monday-Friday. While most of us make it a practice to always return calls, there are some who won’t call back if they aren’t accepting new clients.

  1. Feel free to schedule with more than one therapist, and test the waters

 Studies have shown that more than anything, the most crucial aspect of therapy is the relationship. Therapists know this, and we want you to find the right fit. It is not uncommon to have a session or two to feel out the process, before committing. You will be invested in the process emotionally and financially, and you want to feel like you can share with this person. Don’t be afraid to be clear about what you want, or to ask questions. We want you to get the most out of this process.

If you are starting the searching process now, good luck! If you have follow-up questions or would like more details on anything I wrote, feel free to comment.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Jealousy

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As I think I’ve mentioned before, I love working with couples. I love the dynamics in loving relationships, and being a part of the healing that can take place in thoughtful communication. Most of my posts have a component of relationship dynamics in them, and I could probably write endlessly on the different dysfunctions I see.

Today I’m focused on jealousy in relationships. I find jealousy so polarizing because there are those who equate acts of jealousy with acts of love and those who abhor any hint of overprotective ways. I did a quick google search on the difference between jealousy and envy, and the consensus is that jealousy comes from a fear of being replaced or losing what you have (in this case your monogamous relationship).  I often find that within couples, the dynamics of jealousy are unbalanced. One person is always fighting the green eyed monster more than the other.

I have put feelings of jealousy into 2 categories:

  1. Internal Jealousy: This is the one that comes from the place deep inside you that does not feel good enough or deserving of the relationship you have. If you are resonating with this, think about what it is about you that feels unlovable. Do you feel unattractive? Mean? Unavailable? The upside of internal jealousy is you have control and the ability to work through these issues without allowing them to tear your relationship apart. Give yourself he gift of feeling good enough, and let go of the worry that someone else can replace you.
  1. External Jealousy: This one is a bit tougher. External jealousy comes from a partner who puts you in the situation of feeling jealous. Maybe she spends a lot of time outside of work texting a certain coworker and making sure you know about it. Maybe he talks constantly about the women at the gym who hit on him. If you have a partner who is doing this to you the first step is to stop taking the bait. I’m guessing it leads to a lot of fighting, and why? If your partner is dropping these hints, there is likely a reason. Maybe they are feeling ignored, and maybe they are looking for a way out of the relationship. Find a constructive way to explore why this continues to come up, and find a way to end the jealous cycle.

In either case, jealousy is the weed growing from an ugly root. Don’t let it be what fills your space!

Open Mouth–Insert foot. Why we can’t take back hurtful words.

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Lately I have been working more predominantly with couples, which I am loving. I get to observe the intimate dynamic between two people, and find out what makes their partnership unique. I often begin with the “How did you meet?” question, because it gives me a glimpse into the brighter times of the relationship, and takes some of the pressure off of the, “we had to come to therapy” vibe. I am amazed at how the recollection of happy memories can often be a catalyst for change in the moment. I can almost hear the couples’ thoughts: “We were happy once; we can be happy again.” Nothing makes me happier as their therapist, than the moment hope is achieved.

            Sometimes things are not so lovely, lovey dovey, easy. Boo, more work for me. (Kidding!) The more challenging aspect often has nothing to do with the problem a couple comes in with (she spends too much, he is a slob, someone had an affair). It has everything to do with how the couple is speaking to one another. John and Julie Gottman observed this at their institute, and were able to predict with great accuracy, which couples would stay together, and which would end in divorce–strictly based off of the ratio of positive to negative interactions. I watch that play out on my couch, when I see couples choosing their words vs. vomiting them.

            So often one partner will bring up an example of a horrible threat to leave or a cutting statement such as, “I never should have married you.” The perpetrator of the hurtful words usually comes back with the retort: “I didn’t mean it,” but once the words are out it is too late. How is someone supposed to forget those words were spoken? They have become a scar on the relationship–even when treated it still remains. A constant thread of doubt in the mind of the recipient. Doubt is crippling in many ways, but it is relationship kryptonite.

            Consider the use of words in any relationship, and consider them carefully. The ones spoken in anger may not hold truth, but they cannot be taken back and they will hang in the air forever. 

Photo credit: Paul Reynolds via Flickr