WHY YOU NEED MARRIAGE COUNSELING
There is so much out there to prepare us to get married. We can plan every detail of our day out down to the napkin color. We take pre-marital counseling and learn how many kids our spouse wants to have or ways to "fight nice" if you're lucky. But no one ever teaches you how to BE married after the GET married part is done. And once you are married, you understand why that is - it's a difficult, individual, and evolving process. This is year 5 of wedded bliss for my hubby and I, and while I am certainly no expert on love, and while I haven't been married all that long, I have learned some big lessons along the way that I'm all too happy to pass on.
WHY I NEEDED COUNSELING
Do you know what the word stigma means? It means there's a pre-conceived idea, or judgement, about a certain thing. The stigma with marriage counseling is that it's for couples that can't make it on their own, who's love life has crashed and is burning before their eyes. That simply isn't true. Counseling can make a good marriage great, and if your spouse wants to go to counseling, it is one of the most selfless acts of love he or she can show you. It means he's in it 100%. That she is willing to do whatever it takes to stay strong.
Our marriage was definitely good, but we weren't doing whatever it took to stay strong. In fact, the world weakened us more and more each year we were married. We weathered things like job loss and unemployment (both of us). Shattered dreams when the careers we prepared our lives for were met with shut doors over and over as interview after interview didn't pan out - again, for both of us. Surgeries and illness from people that depended on us for their care. The death of both of our fathers and the financial stress that put on us when we were left with a funeral to pay for. None of this is a plea for pity. It is simply to say, how amazing is the God we serve to give us exactly what we needed to strengthen us?! He gave us the strength to pick ourselves up and reinvent ourselves over and over until we landed on something great.
One afternoon, we had one of the most real, heart-wrenching conversations we ever had. Our marriage, and we both agreed on this, was weakening more and more each year. And because we believe that marriage is a covenant and that God wants us to be happy, we decided to go to counseling. Year 5 was going to be great (and it has been!)
SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT
I had a lot of bitterness in my heart. I'm a perfectionist, impatient, quick to get annoyed. Or at least, I was. Our counselor, after a few sessions, put the frank and honest impression on me that if we wanted things to get stronger, I had to do a major heart check. So I went to the one thing that was always right, always true, always good enough: my faith. Psalm 34:14 reads "seek peace and pursue it." It was so hard to do. When I got disproportionally annoyed at something, I had to seek peace and pursue that peace. Seek it, meaning shut my mouth and LOOK for it in my heart, in the memories we created together, in the "forever-ness" that my anchor tattoo was to remind me of. And it was hard. When you seek and FIND, you then have to pursue. That meant choosing not to react, not to let my uncontrolled emotions out. And like the true magic of scripture, heeding the Lord's advice began to transform me. I wasn't as annoyed. I was happier. It was working.
REACTION VS. RESPONSE
What I was essentially doing was teaching myself to respond, not react. It's a concept I didn't think about much until out counselor spelled it out. It applied to Brandon too - I had to allow him time to react, and ignore that reaction, and take his later response as truth. We both learned a lot of grace for each other in this season. We learned to communicate difficult things, "hot-button" issues, and allowed each other to react, to work through those raw emotions, before dealing with how we truly felt, or responded.
LEARN HOW TO FIGHT
When you're dating someone, you learn so much about them. Preference, tastes, history - but did you learn about his or her emotions and how he or she deals with them? Now that my husband and I made space for our emotions to play out in a safe way that wouldn't hold weight or inflict damage, we had to figure out what triggered the bad ones have a plan to deal with them. We had to learn how to fight.
During a fight, do you come after your partner guns-ablaze, wanting to shout down every detail? Do you want to just run away and not be bothered or even looked at? We were one of each. And it took actually talking about how we prefer to fight, and then pursuing a compromise (space at first, with a promise to talk after our emotions were in-check) to really learn how to take fights from DEstructive to CONstructive.
WHAT ISN'T YOUR LOVE LANGUAGE
One of the newer revelations I've had is that it's not only important to know what your spouse's love language is, but perhaps more importantly for YOU, what isn't. If you haven't heard of Dr. Chapman's love languages, they are 5 ways in which people typically feel loved. They are, in no particular order, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, and Quality Time. While Brandon and I know that Quality Time is both of our love languages (how lucky!), and we intentionally schedule coffee dates, devotionals, bible studies, and set aside one day a week just for fun plans together, it took a few years to figure out the implications of honoring what WASN'T our love language.
I would get very upset when I spent hours cleaning the house or prepping meals, only to have a "thanks so much" in return. It seemed like I just put in the effort to climb Mount Everest, and the response I got was a seemingly flippant "cool" and not the overflow of excited praise and gratitude I was expecting. Understanding what holds weight to your spouse, or in other words what their love language is, will greatly shape how enthusiastically they respond and how deeply it will affect them. I finally chose not to be offended, but rather to understand that the gratitude is there, just not expressed as strongly as I was expecting it because he just isn't wired that way. And that's ok!
LOVE BEARS ALL THINGS
So if you are in the throws of Pinterest board building to prepare for your upcoming wedding, or if you have been married years already and find random socks all throughout your house too, I truly hope this advice can strike a chord and make your marriage great. I highly encourage counseling, which teaches us above all else, to pay attention to our emotions and talk them out. I love love. I'm in the profession of love as a wedding photographer, and there's nothing I want more than to help people remember why they love each other. One of the greatest pieces of marriage advice actually came to me just yesterday as I was reading "How's Your Soul" by Judah Smith. I'll leave you with this truth-bomb as Judah explores the 4 characteristics of love, found in 1 Cor. 13:7: