Married- Dealing With Baggage
When to Ask for Help
So, despite your very best efforts, things still don’t seem to be headed in the right direction. You are on our site, you are doing your best to relate differently to your partner and things don’t seem to be improving. Maybe you don’t think we know what we’re talking about and want to chalk it off to bad advice. Perhaps you’ve determined that your relationship is past the point of help or that you’re never going to be successful in a long term partnership.
You can spend your time pointing the finger at others. You can project your bitterness onto some nameless, faceless entity that is supposedly responsible for your state of affairs. You can blame your parents for not giving you a good example of what a relationship is supposed to look like. You can blame the woman in your life for your misery. You can continue to do this, but to what avail? How is that working for you so far? The more you depend on external factors for happiness, the less happiness you will experience. You are giving up your power.
Perhaps the answer lies a bit deeper…maybe it has little or nothing at all to do with these outward factors. Maybe the answer is you. I know, it’s a little hard to swallow, but just like the band-aid that we’ve now pulled off, the sting is gone and we can get down to examining the wound and assessing what needs to be done to heal and move forward.
Don’t let me stop you. Continue riding the bitter bus as long as you like. Keep doing what you’re doing now if you’re getting what you want. On the other hand, if you don’t have what you want in the form of your relationship right now, I invite you to get off that nowhere-leading ride and consider a new perspective. Now I know that for some, the thought of talking to a stranger about something that you think you should be able to figure out on your own feels awkward and uncomfortable. The thought of seeing a counselor to talk about feelings is so L.A., New Age and trendy. Or maybe for others, the possibility of facing the fact that your own hang ups may be responsible for the state of your love life is hard to face. Typically, men are reluctant to seek outside help for fear that doing so means they are incompetent of resolving matters on their own.
This isn’t to say that perhaps the partner you’ve chosen is the best choice for you. Maybe you entered the relationship at a low point in your life and now that you’ve awakened, you see that she wasn’t a healthy partner. Or maybe some major changes have taken place during the course of your time together that make compatibility seem impossible. I’m all for people being with their very best match, but also look at the fact that you’re the one who chose to enter the relationship in the first place. Even if she “chose” you, you consented and were a willing participant and thereby have a role in how it went. This means that unless you take some time to look inward, you may wind up choosing a very similar situation without even knowing how it happened…again.
What I’m really trying to say is, if it’s broken, find the right tool to fix it. Seeking additional support in the form of a trained counselor that specializes in relationships, communication and intimacy can give you insight into your relationship patterns and direction about how to do things differently. As a marriage family therapist, I liken counseling to personal training for men all the time. When you reach a plateau in your physical fitness or want to kick it up to a new level, you seek the advice of a personal trainer. In your sessions, you assess where you’re at, get ideas and opportunities to practice new skills and then you practice them on your own. You come back to the trainer as needed to acquire new skills from time to time, but for the most part, you practice on your own. This is the same thing for counseling.
Once you make the decision that you want to talk to someone, take your time to find a counselor that you feel comfortable with. After all, if you’re going to devote your time and resources, it should be with someone you feel good about. Research has shown that the kind of orientation or approach a therapist uses (i.e. psychodynamic/ Freudian, Cognitive Behavioral, Solution Focused) matters very little, but what matters more is the trust that the client and therapist establish together. Translation: I can be the most well trained counselor in the world, but if you don’t like or trust me, are you really going to listen to what I say?
Now, a word of caution here; you shouldn’t be choosing a therapist that simply goes along with your B.S. Counselors aren’t Rent-A-Friends. If you just want to vent and get support, go to a buddy. Our job is to give you an outside perspective that you haven’t yet considered to expand your current view and the options associated with it. This may piss you off at times and may be a sign that you’re tapping into a soft spot that needs more attention. Don’t be afraid to talk openly about this experience with the counselor and be careful not to act on the impulse to leave counseling altogether before discussing it. That being said, you should feel respected and heard. Your opinion and feelings matter and it’s the counselor’s job to shed some insight into what may be causing your relationship challenges in a diplomatic and kind way.
Here are some professional websites for counselors:
California Association of Marriage Family Therapists www.camft.org
American Association of Marriage Family Therapists www.aamft.org
National Association of Social Workers www.socialworkers.org
You may also check with your state board that regulates counselors to verify credentials and licensure status (each state is different, but it is important to verify credentials). In California, you may check: www.bbs.ca.gov
A few questions to ask yourself are:
1. Would I feel more comfortable with a man or a woman counselor?
2. Does culture/ race matter in the counselor I see?
3. How much can I afford to pay hourly while not putting myself in financial
4. How far am I willing to travel (possibly on a weekly basis)?
A few questions to ask the counselor you’re interviewing (all of which can be done over the phone) are:
1. What are your areas of specialization?
2. What is your approach to working with clients?
3. What is your hourly rate?
4. Do you accept insurance?
5. How long have you been in practice?
Finally, I want to state my admiration and respect for those who make the commitment to invest in improving themselves. It takes courage to look in the mirror and even more bravery to take steps toward breaking old patterns. Repetitive, painful patterns in relationships may be the catalyst that leads you to seek help, but all areas of your life will benefit from the gains you make.