I might seem biased when it comes to the value of therapy. Both my parents AND my older sister are clinical psychologists. In college, graduate school, and grownup life, I had three different counselors who I saw for only a few months each but who I can say, without exaggeration, were the exact support I needed to arrive at some necessary revelations and make significant changes in my life, in terms of relationships, sexuality, disenchantment with politics, and family baggage.
So I did not need to be sold on the value of therapy. I was practically born with an appreciation for it.
BUT… something I did not realize until this fall was the power of couples counseling, not just in a moment of crisis but at a time of change.
Almost as soon as we were engaged, I began wistfully thinking about the tradition of turning to a pastor or rabbi for support, guidance, and difficult question-posing in the months leading up to a wedding. I don't have an obvious spiritual mentor, so my thoughts turned to therapy. My fiancé was open to the idea, but the guy we found was a little more pricey than we could afford long term. So we committed to seeing him only four times, and planned that in to our wedding budget.
I don't want there to be darkness in our house that we're oblivious of…
The first and second visits were pleasant and peaceful. Maybe too much so. When we left the second session, we realized that using counseling as a way to pat ourselves on the back for being such reasonable and articulate and loving people was kind of a wasted opportunity. So as homework for our third session, we had to come up with something difficult that we felt we needed help talking through. Essentially, our homework was to pick a fight.
It feels a little too personal to share the gory details of the fight I picked and the fight he picked, but I can say that our session on Tuesday was very different from the first two: uncomfortable and challenging, kind of like wading through thigh-high thick, sticky mud. But our counselor pointed out a few things about the way we were talking, and the things at the root of what we were saying, that never would have occurred to me. It will take me probably a few weeks to fully process and integrate all those things that came up and that I learned. (Luckily, our fourth and last session is after the holidays, so I can take those few weeks to really think and digest.)
I remember, when I got engaged, wondering how I would balance the excitement and thrill of planning the magical party with the importance and gravity of beginning a lifelong commitment. Going into couples counseling, even for just our brief four-session stint, has been a very grounding way to hold this intention. As my future husband said in our session on Tuesday night, “I don't want there to be darkness in our house that we're oblivious of.” Premarital counseling is a way to pull the darkness out from its hiding places so that you can turn it over in the light and see it for what it actually is.